Kent State’s Jordan Italiano tackles football, rigorous academics

Jordan Italiano (Courtesy Don Tate)

If it’s Monday, it must be genomes; if it’s Tuesday, the zone read.

In the Mid-American Conference, school nights are often game nights, too. Ergo, Jordan Italiano decided to lighten his class load a little for the fall semester: A genetics class here, a little physiology course there …

“It’s a tough schedule, both football-wise and academically,” Kent State’s senior safety said. “I’ve gotten used to it, I guess, just taking those difficult classes at the beginning of the season.

“It’s not like I can take easier classes in the fall, because (they’re) pre-requisites for the spring courses. So you kind of have to follow through with your schedule.”

Not that Italiano would take a scholastic “out” if you offered it to him, anyway. The Canfield, Ohio native rolled into the autumn toting a 3.98 collegiate GPA, and toting the hard way — majoring in chemistry/pre-med.

“Some of the classes he takes,” recalled John Hardesty, one of the Golden Flashes’ academic counselors, “I can’t even pronounce.

“I guess one of the funniest things with Jordan is when we’re planning out his next semester and working with him and hearing him stay stuff like — I’ll have this whole plan for him but he says, ‘I really want to learn about kinesiology and animal physiology so I can lump that together.’ He’s just really adamant about taking the (courses) to prepare him for the next step. That just blows my mind. I said, ‘Take what you want.’”

He did. And does.

The long game, the end game, is medical school. The short game ain’t bad, either: The Kent defensive back is fifth on the squad with 47 tackles; last fall, he was second in stops with 96, 48 of them solo. The frame is compact (5-foot-10, 207 pounds) but can cover an awful lot of real estate in a hurry (4.58-4.68 in the 40-yard dash). And like a lot of smaller safeties, he studies the snot out of Seattle’s Earl Thomas.

“Just the intensity he brings, and the way he plays,” Italiano said. “It’s something that I think is good to look up to as a safety.”

The Flashes defender prides himself on rocking that same kind of motor, pedal kicked to the floor. Whether it’s a Cover-2 look or a lab assignment, the goal is the same: Just win, baby.

“I would say that I’m very competitive in pretty much everything I do,” Italiano said. “I take it serious: I want to be the best at everything. So I’d say I’m pretty competitive.”

Jordan Italiano finds time to balance a demanding academic load with practice and games. (Courtesy Don Tate)

He’s a closet perfectionist, too. Which is why the teeth start to gnash a little when the subject turns to his only non-A grade at Kent: A B-plus in “College Writing II” freshman year.

“It was one of those classes — it wasn’t even required for my major,” Italiano recalled. “It was a university requirement and it turned out that was the class I got a B-plus in.”

You learn to forgive, even if you never forget. Not that it’s done too much harm to the street cred: Italiano last week was named to CoSIDA’s Academic All-District team; he’s vying to become the Flashes’ first-ever three-time Academic All-American. The Ohio native was also recently tapped as a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, presented to the top football scholar-athlete in the nation, guaranteeing him an $18,000 stipend to continue his education. This summer, declared Italiano The Smartest Player in College Football.

“He’s very mature,” Hardesty said. “Very accountable.”

Very focused. A textbook ninja. Hardesty played lacrosse at Ohio State and had one teammate who went the pre-med route, “and he quickly got out. The time management is a little tough. Just seeing it from the productive way (Jordan) manages his time, that’s the biggest lesson I teach to these incoming freshmen.”

“I’ve always kind of been more interested in the science and the math curriculum growing up,” Italiano said. “I actually came to campus undecided (on a major) and I took a lot of science courses and I took the math courses and I kind of always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to do pre-med but was hesitant to declare. But after I’d taken (the) other courses, I was like, ‘You know what? This is something I really want to do.’”

Free time? Who needs free time? This past summer, when a window emerged, Italiano participated in a leadership seminar with his teammates, earning certification as a violence prevention instructor.

“(Parties), that’s never really been my scene. I kind of like to do my own thing,” he said. “I’m not huge on going out. I just kind of like to focus on my school and on football and when I have free time, I just kind of like to hang out with friends and relax.”

Even if those friends haven’t really stopped giving him grief about the whole “Smartest Player in College Football” thing.

“Once everybody’s heard it, after a while, it turned into teasing: ‘OK, You’re the Smartest Man in College Football and you got this wrong? You can’t mess that up,’” Italiano chuckled. “When I opened the link, I go, ‘OK …’ I was just kind of scrolling through and looking and to see your name at No. 1, it’s kind of shocking. It kind of caught me off-guard. But it was exciting at the same time.”


Top: Jordan Italiano, a finalist for the William V. Campbell award and a three-time Academic All-American wants to attend medical school after graduation.  (Courtesy Don Tate)
Middle: Jordan Italiano finds time to balance a demanding academic load with practice and games. (Courtesy Don Tate)