Athlete of the Week: Tackling a healthy sports-life balance with Jeff Gurley

| Senior Sports Editor

Jeff Gurley is a senior from Leawood, Kan. who is majoring in Political Science. He plays linebacker on the Washington University football team. Last year, he earned All-Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) second team honors as well as Google Cloud Academic All-District and Academic All-CCIW honors. In our first installment of our Athlete of the Week series, I sat down with Gurley to talk about his future plans, his experience as a Wash. U. student-athlete and what he does off the gridiron.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

Senior linebacker Jeff Gurley and sophomore linebacker John Christensen stop a North Park University offensive player in his tracks. Outside of football, Gurley transferred to Wash. U. after his freshman year.

Student Life: Why Political Science?

Jeff Gurley: I actually went into my freshman year thinking I wanted to do business of sports—front office type stuff. But I took American Politics in [the] fall of 2016 and I just found it all really interesting. As I’ve taken more and more, I’ve enjoyed the law side more than anything. I’ve stuck around political science. I’ve also minored in legal studies. That’s been a good combination of my interests.

SL: Gotcha. Is the plan law school for the moment?

JG: Yep. I’ve already applied and been accepted into a few places, so keep your fingers crossed over me.

SL: Awesome. Good luck.

JG: Thanks.

SL: What brought you to Wash. U?

JG: Well, I actually didn’t go to Wash. U. at the beginning of my collegiate career.

SL: Yeah, you started at Davidson [College], right?

JG: I started at Davidson, yeah. I didn’t really like it there and it didn’t really work out. So when I was looking for the next place, the most important thing to me was the people I surround myself with. Right when I got here, I knew this is where I wanted to be. On my visit, I mean. All the people on the team were incredible. The coaching staff was amazing. I could tell that all the professors and the students genuinely cared. I know you know this too, but everyone genuinely cares about each other and wants everybody to succeed. That was the big difference, I thought, from a lot of the peer schools that Wash. U. compares itself to. It was really the existence of a strong community and the values behind that that really drew me to Wash. U.

SL: When did you transfer?

JG: After my freshman year.

SL: So this is your third year here?

JG: Yes.

SL: When did you become a starter on the football team?

JG: I started a couple games my sophomore year. Then I started full time at the beginning of my junior season. So I’ve started, 15 games in a row? How many have we played this year? 16?

SL: Including this year?

JG: Yep.

SL: Gotcha. What’s been your favorite part about playing football at Wash. U.?

JG: Oh man. Not to sound like a broken record, but definitely the people, for sure. All of my closest friends are on the team. They’re driven, passionate. They want to succeed and they want everyone else to succeed around them. We hold each other accountable. We push each other to be the best that we can be. Not just on the field, but in every aspect of life. Whether it’s football, in the classroom, faith, family life—really anything. The best friends that I’ve had are the dudes that we wake up at 6 a.m., we work out with TO [Terry O Neill, the team’s strength and conditioning coach], get destroyed, then we’re in the classroom together, we’re at BD, we’re at village together, doing everything. That’s definitely my favorite part about being on the team here.

SL: What’s been your favorite game you’ve played?

JG: Probably the Wheaton [College] game last year. We were underdogs by a bunch. That was actually the other school that I trimmed my list down to—between Wash. U. and Wheaton. Defensively, we were firing on all cylinders that game. It was just a really fun game to play in, football-wise, and that extra layer of knowing I made the right choice to come here really made that game special.

SL: How do you feel about what happened on Saturday? (On Saturday, the Bears lost a blowout to Wheaton, 52-13)

JG: That was definitely a disappointing game. Yeah, I mean we…Yeah. We’re really disappointed in the outcome. They were a better football team than us on Saturday. They came out, right out of the gate, and we didn’t. We kept fighting and I’m really proud of all my guys. I think that is what makes us us. No matter the score is, no matter what’s going on, we’re always fighting until the bitter end. I think that’s what makes Wash. U. football Wash. U. football. But obviously, we’re incredibly disappointed in the outcome. We’re looking towards next week, at this point, Illinois-Wesleyan [University].

SL: In your junior and senior year, y’all have been in the CCIW, right?

JG: Um-hmm.

SL: The year you came is the year that we didn’t have conference?

JG: Yes.

SL: Has there been a big difference in moving into a conference versus what that year without a conference was like?

JG: Sure. I think the biggest thing is just the regularity of opponents. For sure, I mean, it’s been kind of fun playing the same teams back to back. Seeing a lot of the same guys last year and this year when we play each other. And sometimes not so fun because, you know how that can be. But especially my sophomore year, there was not a lot of rhyme or reason to the schedule. We played an incredibly tough schedule, which I think really prepared us well for the CCIW, which is one of the best conferences in the country.

SL: Switching gears, away from football a little bit, you mentioned that you went to Blue Valley High School in Leawood, Kan., right?

JG: [nodding his head] Umhmm.

SL: How often do you get home?

JG: During the season, it’s obviously tough. The weekends are when I would go home, but we have games and other stuff. During the spring, I try to get home a couple times. Kind of just depends on what’s going on. That’s been really nice: not just being able to go home on a weekend, but knowing that if I need to, it’s only three and a half hours if you’re going fast on I-70, right? That’s been really nice. And my family is able to come to all of the home games. I know that’s been really nice for them, to be able to hop in the car and drive over.

SL: I went to Olathe North [High School, also in the Kansas City suburbs], so I remember that the last couple of years that you were in high school, Blue Valley was very good. Do you still keep up with people from that team?

JG: Yeah. It’s kind of strange because now that I’m four years removed, there are only a couple guys that I really know that are on the team anymore. I text my high school head coach pretty regularly. Keeping tabs on everything. But, it’s definitely strange. I’m sure you know, as you get older, in college, you know fewer and fewer people at the high school and it’s harder to follow along for sure.

SL: Definitely. It’s also weird because you see people go in very interesting directions in life. What do you do outside of football at Wash. U.?

JG: Yeah. So, football takes up a lot of my time for sure. When I have free time, my first main extracurricular is that I lead the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Bible study with another one of my teammates. That’s really rewarding to be with people going through a lot of the stuff. [Meeting with] other student athletes, not just on the football team, to talk about our faith, walk together and grow in each other and grow in Christ. That’s really cool to be around those guys. And then, the other main extracurricular is that I started a college access program at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee center in East St. Louis. I’ve worked there for the last two summers. Me and a couple other people from Wash. U. do ACT test prep and college readiness type stuff with the high school kids over there. It’s one of the most at-risk neighborhoods in the country. That’s been really rewarding the last few summers and now once a week during the semester. To be around the kids has been really rewarding. And then, like anyone I like to hang out with my friends. We’ve been on a Super Smash Brothers tear the last couple months. That’s been really fun. And board games, like anyone else. Those can get a little heated though.

SL: Who do you main in Smash?

JG: Oh man. I’ve usually been Roy, but I’ve been playing a lot more with Fox recently. He’s just so fast.

SL: You said you started that [East. St. Louis test prep program]?

JG: Yeah.

SL: What was the process of that like?

JG: The summer after my sophomore year and before my junior year, I worked there with their Lawns for Learning program. So in the morning, we’re with the high school boys doing public works type stuff. The center employs the boys so they’re not doing other stuff, and then in the afternoon, we work on like life coaching stuff. We brought in bankers to do financial literacy. We brought in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to do Bible study with the kids. That summer, I was like, “Hey, I did okay on the ACT. I’m happy to do a little ACT prep thing.” They were all over that. They bought a bunch of ACT books. I started doing ACT prep like two or three times a week with the boys. I just noticed how they were so behind on a lot of educational metrics and then seeing them up-front struggling with the test that is so important to getting into college. Knowing that I could do something about it the next summer—and throughout the semester—I spent that coordinating with the center and other resources around Wash. U. and the greater St. Louis area to create a full fledged program, prep for college type thing. Now, I feel confident that once I leave, I can hand it off to someone else because we detailed everything. So that’s been rewarding for sure.

SL: That sounds like a really interesting and awesome program.

JG: Yeah. It’s always rewarding to be around kids like that. They have so much energy and so many great goals.

SL: Gotcha. I’d never heard of that program. I don’t know if it’s a more popular thing, I just hadn’t been aware of it.

JG: We’re still in our infancy. But the Jackie Joyner-Kersee center has been there forever. She’s probably the greatest Olympian in American history, and so it’s really cool that she’s from East St. Louis. Pretty cool to be around her.

This interview was slightly edited for length and clarity.

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