The journey of a NAIT student athlete

by | Mar 15, 2023 | Sports

As the Ooks men’s basketball team is soaring down the final stretch of their regular season, it is incredible to see the talent the team has assembled this season. But when you watch student athletes participating in a sport, there is another side often forgotten about: putting in the work in the classroom to ensure success on game day. 

Student-athletes have worked tremendous hours to reach this point in their journey. From daily practices, weightlifting and meetings, a student athlete’s schedule can quickly become overcrowded without even mentioning their classes. So, to gain an insight into the life of a student-athlete, I sat down with Zach Jacobs, a member of the Ook’s men’s basketball team.

Growing up in Southern Alberta, Jacobs was introduced to the sport of basketball when he joined the Steve Nash Basketball club as a child. “I had so much fun stealing the ball from everyone,” Jacobs said. “I just wanted to play all the time…every Saturday, I was up at 7 a.m. with my shoes on, ready to go play basketball.” 

Looking back, he attributes a large part of why he fell in love with basketball to watching the NBA and his favourite player Derrick Rose. “He really was my idol when it came to basketball … in my childhood room, there’s still posters of Derrick Rose everywhere.”

It wasn’t until later that Jacobs began to take basketball and academics seriously. He made the local rep team and was suddenly playing with eighth graders despite being in sixth grade. His coach called him a student-athlete for the first time, and the term stuck with Jacobs. “That was the first time I was told I was a student-athlete, and so that meant if you’re not a good student, you can’t play basketball,” said Jacobs. 

“That applies today, here at NAIT. If you don’t maintain a good average at school, you’re not allowed to play basketball … that really forced me to do well in my classes and try my best.” 

Although it wasn’t easy adjusting from high school to college, Jacobs’ teammates have been important to his success. “I didn’t know any of them coming into the program but they really opened their arms, let me in, and now I can call them my good friends.” 

Through this transition, the most significant change has been the work on and off the court. “We have practice five days a week usually, an hour lift every other day… It’s a grind,” explained Jacobs.

 “That’s probably the biggest difference between high school and NAIT is the amount of work I put in off the court,” said Jacobs.

Like in his early days, Jacobs still focuses on his schoolwork alongside his sport. “We all work together for 2 hours every day on schoolwork … everybody is pushing each other to do good,” said Jacobs.

“If you’re not winning as a team, you’re losing…so that’s why we all come together twice a week to make sure we’re all winning in the classroom so we win on the floor.”

Despite the hard work, Jacob loves what he does. “It can be hard sometimes, but last year when I wasn’t an athlete, I was just in college somewhere else, I missed the student athlete life. If you’re in college or school, you’re working towards a career, but you’re also going to play the sport that you love,” said Jacobs. “I feel like I’m doing something.”   

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