Nick DeKraker has been busy during his college career, but lately, the former Penguins defensive tackle is getting used to having free time after completing his senior season in 2012.
DeKraker is still a familiar face around the Youngstown State University football program.
“I’ve been helping out Coach [Michael] Cochran in the weight room and Coach [Tom] Sims on the practice field,” he said. “Just helping out right now and staying busy.”
It’s safe to say that he isn’t complaining about the brief downtime. For the past two years at YSU, DeKraker has had a full schedule.
Joining the Penguins in 2011 from Grand Rapids Community College, he’s juggled starting on the YSU defensive line, maintaining his grades as he pursues a business degree and spending time with his wife.
He’s balanced these tasks well — so well that he recently received national recognition.
In late March, DeKraker was one of two student-athletes chosen as the recipient of the 12th annual KP Sports Division I Football Championship Subdivision Athletics Directors Association Scholar-Athletes of the Year.
“I guess I had to just really manage my time pretty well with football, trying to spend time with my wife and get an education,” he said. “Taking time to study and make sure I get my grades up — that was pretty tough.”
The award recognizes excellence on the field and in the classroom. The candidates were those selected to the Academic All-Star Team in January.
A total of 54 FCS players were selected, and the requirements included having a minimum GPA of 3.20 in undergraduatåe study, as well as being a starter or key player with two years of legitimate athletic credentials.
“It was actually pretty surprising, because of all of the athletes that are selected for it,” DeKraker said. “It’s a pretty high class of academic athletes, so when you’re one of the two selected, it’s a pretty huge honor and a pretty big surprise.”
A special committee consisting of FCS athletic directors was responsible for selecting the all-star team and scholarship finalists.
“Each year, the committee is tasked with selecting two individuals from a plethora of deserving scholar-athletes, and this year was no different,” said Ron Strollo, FCS ADA president and YSU director of athletics. “Nick and Pat [Kelly] are a shining example of the importance of academic success within Division I FCS institutions.”
Last season, DeKraker led the Penguins with five sacks and finished the season with 26 total tackles. He also managed to obtain a 3.93 GPA.
“Being recognized for academics as well as athletics is a huge privilege,” DeKraker said. In accomplishing the honor, DeKraker said he simply tried to take advantage of his opportunity.
“I was given a chance to play football, have a scholarship and get my school paid for,” he said. “It was just taking big advantage of the opportunity that was put in front of me.”
On June 10, DeKraker will travel to Florida to receive his award at the association’s annual membership meeting. The event will last through June 15 and take place at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center.
“I’m excited that I get the opportunity to be surrounded by a large group of successful people of a pretty high prestige organization,” said DeKraker, who will be joined by his wife at the event.
As part of the award, DeKraker and Kelly will each receive a $5,000 postgraduate scholarship. The money will go toward DeKraker’s pursuit of his Master of Business Administration.
“When you get $5,000 towards earning an MBA, it gives you that extra incentive to say, ‘No matter what, I’m going to go for my MBA,’” he said. “It’s just a huge incentive to go for it.”
While DeKraker is enjoying the benefits of the individual award, he also thanked all those at YSU who made the honor possible.
“I’m just glad I had the right people to get me out there and the right people to support me,” he said.