Jose Toro
Staff Writer

This article is also available in print: Quaker Campus, Volume 19 – Issue 6, dated Nov. 17, 2021, on the Whittier College campus.

Here  at  Whittier College, some claim student athletes get special privileges that non-athletes do not get. These special privileges may include larger grants, better quality food at the dining hall, and more help academically with tutoring opportunities and assignment extensions.

As a former student athlete — having been part of the football team for two weeks during August — it was difficult to identify if these privileges were really necessary, or if they were just add-ons to the college experience. I had the privilege of getting to know the day-to-day life of a former teammate and current classmate to see if these “special privileges” give athletes advantages, or if these “special privileges” just give athletes the opportunity to be at the same level as non-athletes.

Third-year Dylan Sanchez is a student athlete here at Whittier College who began playing football in 11th grade and is a part of the 0 – 7 collegiate team. Although the struggles with success on the field are visible, Sanchez shares the overall difficulty being a student athlete off the field. This is his daily schedule from Monday through Friday:

8:00 a.m.: Dylan wakes up.
9:00 a.m.: Morning Lifts
11:00 a.m. – 2:20 p.m.: Classes
3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Football meetings, practice
8:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.: Homework, studying, free time (if any)

As the naked eye looks over the daily schedule of a student athlete, many may not have the understanding to feel or experience the life of a division 3 student athlete. A simple, yet important question started this day-long interview:

Q: How did you sleep?

A: “I slept alright. I actually slept eight hours last night, since I had no homework due. I woke up at 7:45 [a.m.] and ate eggs and tater tots. The only problem with this is I have a ton of homework to work on today.”

Q: How does your body feel? Any joint pain or aches?

“Sore . . . beat up . . . all day . . . every day. . . .” said Sanchez. If it is not one body part, it is another; the pain is consistent all throughout the season.

Q: Did your lift ease the pain or did it drain your body mentally, or physically, or both?

“It piles on to the soreness that was there before,” said Sanchez. His body does not get enough time to fully heal, and having past injuries does not help — i.e., a torn ACL, lateral meniscus, a bucket handle tear on meniscus, and, prior to this injury, Sanchez had surgery on his left shoulder for a torn labrum. “Mentally, it is super difficult to focus on classes, and the biggest struggle is [doing] homework late at night with the little free time that I do have.”

Q: Do you feel like you are functioning well during your classes? Or do you feel like you need help?

“I can function just enough to get by in the classroom while playing my sport. But, during the season, I really do need a tutor to make sure I can understand the material. I don’t have the extra time like other students to prepare before class like I would like to, or to just study the content.”

Q: From your experience, have teachers here given more opportunities for you to succeed in class (i.e. deadlines, extra credit, tutoring)?

“Some teachers are generous with deadlines, but many of them are very strict, and it has [reflected] in my grade. I have missed a quiz that I did not attempt. I have gotten marks for late work in some of my classes, and I don’t mean for my assignments to be late. It just has been a lot to handle, personally.”

Q: You practice Monday through Friday for around four hours. What does this take away from being the best student you can be?

“This makes the biggest difference. When football was canceled during the pandemic, I felt like I had all the time in the world to learn and do my assignments. During Zoom, and even when I was in person my freshman year, I also did not play due to my shoulder [injury]. It was so much smoother. I honestly [ . . . ] did not know how smart I truly was until I just focused on academics without football; the difference is huge.”

Q: You are on a football team who is struggling this season. As a former teammate and player, I can empathize with the way you might feel; however, regular students here may not. Why is that?

“Some students really just can not relate unless they play a college sport and handle academics at the same time. Some might even refer to high school, but, truly, the sport intensity and time devotion increases dramatically. The sport that I play is not only physically demanding, but also mentally [demanding]. Examples include understanding the scheme of different coverages and fronts — knowing who is going where and what I have to do. One mistake can get a teammate hurt, or even yourself. Then, you have to be mentally tough to not give up and keep moving forward throughout the season and practice. Regular students won’t understand unless they truly have [this] experience. They might say they can imagine, but I believe they truly can’t. If they would compare their personal workouts, it is definitely not the same because they are on their own schedule. Student athletes are not, and have to work out no matter if they want to or not.”

Q: What is it like to put the blood, sweat and tears in for a team that constantly loses? What keeps you going? What are you learning?

“I’m not going to lie to you; it’s very difficult. It honestly makes you question what is your purpose of being here, putting in the work. There are times where you feel it’s not worth it. But, going through this has taught me that life isn’t perfect, and things may not go a certain way, but, if you want a change, you have to keep fighting [ . . . ] and get better everyday.”

Q: Do you still love it, or are you in it for the education?

“I’m in it for the experience of being a college athlete. I do love football, but, at the same time, the sport can be so overwhelming by taking up most of my time and having to deal with the physical pain daily. But, football has also given me this great opportunity to be at this school.”

Q: What is your response to students who don’t know the reality about many athletes’ situations?

“I really do get a bit frustrated and annoyed because they won’t completely understand unless they have my schedule for a semester — not [only] a day or a week.”

Q: An aspect of athletes we do not give enough attention to is that many of them have to play to go to school. At the college level, many cannot quit sports because they are not able to afford to go to school otherwise. You mentioned that you wanted to explore other things with time. Do you think of quitting?

“I won’t lie, the thought of quitting runs through my mind from time to time. I want to spend more time with my friends and just enjoy college and also focus more on school. I feel I can’t devote 100 percent effort as a student with football.”

Seeing Sanchez’s day-to-day life in retrospect, along with how he feels mentally and physically on a daily basis, one fact is clear: student athletes have it hard. Dylan Sanchez is just one of dozens of students here at Whittier College who struggles to balance athletics and academics. The amount of stress sports puts on the body at the collegiate level is a feeling only athletes can understand, so the simple question that many asked may not even matter anymore.

Non-athletes cannot relate to the day-to-day life of those in collegiate sports. While many of us sit on our phones for hours on end, athletes here are lifting, practicing, and maximizing their athletic ability to compete come game time.

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