ORLANDO, Fla. -- For many major-college football players, the path between the field and the classroom is a treacherous one, strewn with as many academic casualties as athletic disappointments.
And then there are success stories such as Pat Tyrance.
The senior inside linebacker is a two-time, all-Big Eight player at Nebraska and the Cornhuskers' leading tackler in each of the past two seasons.
On top of that, he is an Academic All-American, a pre-med major with nearly a 3.5 grade-point average who recently received his bachelor's degree in biology and last week was honored among the Top Six student-athletes by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
"Football certainly takes up a lot of your time," Tyrance said recently, as he prepared for tomorrow's game between 19th-ranked Nebraska (9-2) and No. 2 Georgia Tech (10-0-1) at the Florida Citrus Bowl. "But if you set your priorities right, you can be successful in more than one area. It falls back on your values and what you want from yourself."
What Tyrance wants is part of his current quandary: He would like to use his abilities as a bone-crushing linebacker to play in the National Football League. But he also would like to use his intellect to become a physician.
Tyrance said his postgraduate academic aspirations might hinder his post-eligibility playing plans. Evidence to that was the fact that, despite his impressive credentials, Tyrance failed to receive a postseason all-star game invitation.
The all-star games come at a time when Tyrance will be busy interviewing at some of the country's prestigious medical schools, including Harvard. What would he do if he gets drafted and accepted?
"If I get picked or if I'm even invited to a pro camp, my bags will be packed," said Tyrance, who grew up in Pikesville, Md., and moved to Omaha, Neb., when he was a sophomore in high school. "If I'm accepted to medical school, that means I would be accepted again. I would like to play a few years in the NFL to help pay for medical school."
Long before he dreamed of becoming a doctor, Tyrance envisioned himself playing at Maryland or Penn State and then coming home to star for the hometown Colts. But Tyrance left the area when his family moved to Omaha after his father was transferred there by AT&T.
It was Tyrance's first acquaintance with that Midwest phenomenon known as Big Red football. "I went to a few games in high school, and I was hooked," said Tyrance.
But when it came down to choosing a school, the decision was a bit more difficult. Tyrance nearly went to Iowa State because it had a good chemistry department and his chances were greater of playing sooner for the Cyclones. When the Iowa State coaching staff was fired during his senior year in high school, Tyrance accepted Nebraska's offer.
"A lot of people at home told me that I made a mistake coming here; they said I was never going to play," said Tyrance, a tight end in high school who was little recruited because of a twisted pelvis suffered during his junior year.
It took more than three years for Tyrance to his chance. He played freshman ball in 1986, was redshirted in 1987, was a backup and special-teams player in 1988 and then began last season behind Chris Caliendo before moving into the starting lineup three games into the season.
"Pat's worked extremely hard to get where he is," linebackers coach Kevin Steele said of Tyrance, who has the heaviest bench press (446 pounds) among his Nebraska teammates. "He's a very dedicated young man."
He's also a very dedicated father. Tyrance's wife, Renita, said that her husband gives more attention to their 11-month-old son, Pat III, than he does to her sometimes.
"He comes home asking for the baby before he asks for me," said Renita Tyrance.
The kid should have pretty good genes. As Renita Robinson, his mother won the 1989 National Collegiate Athletic Association triple jump. She also was a finalist for the Top Six award.
With his degree in hand, Tyrance approaches the task at hand: stopping the Yellow Jackets and their 15-game unbeaten streak. Then he will contemplate the future, whether it means cutting up cadavers in the lab or cutting down tailbacks coming across the field.
Tyrance has been projected by several scouts as a mid-to-late-round draft choice, and Baltimore-based scouting expert Mel Kiper Jr. said that some teams might have questions about the player's dedication.
"I think a lot of people want to know what his intentions are going to be," said Kiper.
Tyrance is preparing for one or both of his options. But he tries to keep his stoic self and let some more expressive teammates do the talking and self-promoting.
"I'm not one to talk about my accomplishments," said Tyrance. "But I do feel I have the ability to do both. I hope I get that chance."