By Harry Minium

Athletes have so many demands on their time, from practice to team meetings to long road trips. They often miss class, which means they must spend time in a hotel, plane, bus or study hall catching up.

But then there those who push the edge of the envelope by pursuing a master's degree. Old Dominion University has 19 athletes enrolled in graduate school, pushing that envelope.

Wide receiver Eric Kumah, who graduated from Virginia Tech in three years before transferring, is working on a master's degree in education. Defensive back Joe Joe Headen is working on a master's in public administration, and tackle Isaac Weaver and defensive end Derek Wilder have two undergraduate degrees and are working on master's degrees.

Brett Smith (baseball) and Danny Durkin (men's soccer) are enrolled in engineering programs, while Brooke Pilkington (education) and Holly Hutchinson (lifespan and digital communications), the best players on ODU's women's tennis team, are also in graduate school.

But quarterback Messiah deWeaver and women's basketball forward Maggie Robinson might be taking on the biggest challenges.

Both are in the Strome Master of Business Administration program. It's rare for an athlete to pursue an MBA while still playing.

Getting into an MBA program isn't as difficult as getting into medical or law schools, but it's close. ODU's program requires a minimum of 45 credit hours, with nine to 12 hours a semester considered a full-time load, and generally an outstanding academic record and two years of work experience. The Princeton Review rates ODU's online MBA program the 25th best in the nation.

MBA graduates are in demand for companies seeking chief executive officers, directors of human resources or chief financial officers.

"They are in the classroom with high-level people, executives from Norfolk Southern and other corporations," said Ron Moses, an associate athletic director who heads ODU's academic advising team. "They are not only going to learn from the professors, but from all the people around them."

Robinson began taking MBA classes a few weeks ago.

"I am seeing so many people with different stories, different backgrounds, to people with different undergraduate degrees to people who have been in the business world for years," she said.

Robinson and deWeaver transferred to ODU from junior colleges, but deWeaver had the harder road. He was a four-star quarterback in high school who signed with Michigan State. His high school academic record in Dayton, Ohio, was so good that he was admitted to Michigan State's prestigious Eli Broad School of Business as a freshman.

He transferred to East Mississippi College after his freshman year and helped the Lions win a national title as a sophomore in 2018.

He then came to ODU in December 2018 after graduating with an associate degree in just one semester. However, he lost credit for classes that would not transfer. Yet he earned his undergraduate degree in just a year and began the MBA program in January.

"Messiah took advantage of the opportunities that Old Dominion offered him," Moses said. "He took extra classes and was so focused."

Both he and Robinson had to hustle to get enrolled. deWeaver had tests to take, essays to turn in, work experience to document and meetings to schedule. Moses said he took care of that by himself, even though ODU's academic team offered to help.

Both he and Robinson met with Jeff Tanner, dean and a professor of marketing in the Strome College of Business, and President John R. Broderick before they were accepted.

deWeaver had a 3.6 grade-point average this past spring, taking all of his classes online.

Robinson's path was more straightforward. The Mobile, Ala., native came from Shelton State Community College, a 15-minute drive from the University of Alabama, where she led her team to two junior college Final Fours.

Robinson, who graduated from ODU with a biology degree last month, says she's considering becoming a dentist.

"Having an MBA also gives me more options if I decide not to go to dental school," she said.

deWeaver is a "first-gen" student, meaning he is among the first in his family to earn a college degree. ODU is among the nation's leaders in graduating first-gen students.

His two older sisters have master's degrees and his younger sister, now in middle school, also plans to go to college. His father is a businessman and his mother a nurse who got her degree at a technical school.

"They are smart people who didn't have the chance to go to college, but they've had the joy of seeing their children do that," he said. "

deWeaver is undecided on what to do when he's done with football. He's thinking of working with a sports agency, on Wall Street or as a college football recruiting coordinator.

Robinson enrolled in summer school in May to take five classes (for seven credit hours), thinking she was the only athlete working on an MBA.

But while listening to a series of online presentations, she heard deWeaver speak and identify himself as a football player.

"I was so surprised," she said. "That was so great to hear."

"That's such a credit to both of them," Moses added. "They are remarkable young people doing remarkable things."

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