MADISON - When most people think of Wisconsin athletics, they see the games, they know about the practices and the coaches, but they probably don’t think much about the student part of the student-athletes they are reading about and watching compete. Men’s hockey forward Matthew Ford is one of them.
A senior from West Hills, Calif., he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004 as an eighth-round pick at No. 256 overall. He finished his playing career with 124 games, scoring 21 goals and 39 points and as a member of an NCAA championship team. He also finished as a two-time member of the Academic All-WCHA team and Academic All-Big Ten team.
“I’ve really enjoyed, on the hockey side, my experience here,” said Ford. “Winning a national championship my sophomore year with a couple of other successful years and making the tournament three years. It was a fun ride.”
The ride won’t be completely over until Saturday, however.
“I’m proud of a lot of things,” added Ford. “Personally, I’m glad I’m done here. I’ll be graduating and walking through the ceremony.
“It is pretty huge. I have a lot of family members coming up. It is one more chance to be at the Kohl Center. I kept saying that about hockey, getting to play the regional tournament here. That was an amazing experience, but one last time standing up at the Kohl is pretty exciting.”
There are many instances, because of the demands of athletics, where a student-athlete takes extra time to earn a degree, but that is not the case in this situation. Ford is graduating in four years.
“It is a pretty big honor,” Ford said. “I know some normal students who haven’t been able to finish in four years. I think a big credit for that goes to my parents. They really thought that it was important. That was the biggest thing when I got to play junior hockey. They kept banging into my head, ‘You get your college degree. You get your college degree.’ It got in there.”
It is quite an accomplishment to earn a college degree, but maybe even more so for student-athletes with the commitment to their respective sport.
“You have to balance everything out,’ explained Ford. “During the season it is the toughest - especially on the weekends. Your focus is completely hockey. Sunday, when you have a day off from hockey, you have to really organize yourself so at the end of the day, things do work out.
“Early in the week, it is getting up, going to work out, making sure you get to your classes and getting to practice. In the evening after practice, you kind of relax with the guys, you try to get a few studies done and at least set aside an hour or two to get some work done.
“When you have off weeks, which we get a couple during the season, and when the season is over, you really have to put your nose to the grindstone.”
When he does finally walk through on Saturday, Ford will own a degree in consumer science from one of the top public universities in the world. What next for the graduate? Maybe a trip to Disney World?
“I don’t know where I’m going to be next year, but I will be playing hockey. I’m pretty excited about that. It has always been a dream, not only to play college hockey, but professional hockey so I am excited.”
As for the degree and its usefulness, “right now I’m pretty proud of it, but at some point it’s going to definitely become helpful.”