Scholar-Athletes Excel On and Off the Playing Field

A special group of scholar-athletes prove you can have smarts in the classroom and on the court.

March 02, 2016 Annette Moore

“Some of the world’s best athletes happen to be some of USC’s best students.”

That audacious claim was made by USC Athletic Director Pat Haden—who’s living proof that it’s true. The former Trojan quarterback and Rhodes Scholar takes pride in all the student-athletes under his charge, but he’s especially proud of one particular group: USC’s David X. Marks Scholar-Athletes.

The 2013 Marks Scholar-Athlete class included four Olympians, 17 All-Americans, three NCAA individual champions, two conference players of the year, six Pac-12 individual champs, seven members of NCAA championship teams, numerous All-Conference First Team members and a Pac-12 medal winner.

It also included an NCAA Academic All-District Team member, a Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year and three All-Academic honorees. Their majors ranged from aerospace engineering to biochemistry and from economics to fine arts.

“At their core, the triumphs of athletics and the triumphs of education are the same,” says USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Body and mind, working together in harmony: That is the Trojan ideal.”

The Marks Scholar-Athlete program is about celebrating that ideal.

Scholars must have studied for a year at USC with a GPA of 3.0 or higher and be on an athletic scholarship. The 70 Marks Scholar-Athletes for 2013 make up about 20 percent of the students on athletic aid at USC. They balance grueling schedules of practices and high-level competition with the demands of classes, papers and final exams.

Meet three of the young men and women who make the grade.

Flora Bolonyai:

Time Manager

Mind Gamers4

Hailed as one of the best goalies in women’s water polo, junior Flora Bolonyai was named tournament MVP as a member of USC’s 2013 NCAA championship team. The Budapest-born athlete is also an Olympian: She helped Team Hungary to a fourth-place finish at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

Bolonyai started getting serious about water polo at age 12 and came to USC largely because of the reputation of its water polo program. But she brings just as much discipline and determination to her studies as she does to her sport.

Together with men’s swimmer Alex Lendrum ’13, Bolonyai was named to the 2013 Capital One Academic All-America First Team—joining an elite group of 816 college athletes with a B+ grade point average or better. She’s double-majoring in mathematics and economics.

“You need really good time-management skills to be able to excel both in the pool and in the classroom,” says Bolonyai, who was named a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Scholar-Athlete and earned All-Academic honors from the American Water Polo Coaches Association in 2012.

She credits USC for emphasizing academic performance among its student-athletes.

“We have the amazing new John McKay Center, which is probably the best in the country,” she says. “We have a great computer lab.”

When she graduates in 2015, Bolonyai plans to return to Hungary to train for the next Olympics. After the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, she hopes to continue her education, pursuing a master’s degree and a career as a statistician or actuary.

Devon Kennard:


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Back in 2009, Trojan football player Devon Kennard ’12 made both the ESPN and the Sporting News Pac-10 All-Freshman first teams. And he picked up USC’s John McKay Award, which recognizes competitive spirit.

But after this dynamite debut, he suffered a string of injuries—most recently a torn chest muscle and surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season.

A communications major, Kennard used the downtime to his advantage, earning his bachelor’s degree in just three years. The Phoenix native says he came to USC “because I wanted to go to a university that would challenge me both in the classroom and on the football field.” So when he couldn’t join his teammates on the turf, he hurled himself into his studies.

“Being a Marks Scholar-Athlete for three years straight is something I’m proud of,” Kennard says. “I’ve taken at least 16 units every semester and in the summer I’ve taken eight units. I’ve been in school nonstop year-round. It’s been tough balancing academics with football, but it’ll pay off down the line. I’ll thank myself later.”

In spring 2012, he found time to join 15 Trojan teammates for a five-day service trip to Haiti, building houses and delivering supplies to communities devastated by a catastrophic earthquake in 2010. This year, Kennard came back as a fifth-year senior on the Trojan squad starting at outside linebacker. Fox Sports West dubbed him one of USC’s “keys to success.”

Next up, he says, is the NFL draft.

When his playing days are over, Kennard hopes to go into corporate brand management or the administrative side of collegiate sports. “Maybe become an athletic director down the line,” Kennard muses. Like a former Trojan scholar-athlete named Pat Haden.

Alex Lendrum:

Synchronized Strokes

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Swimmer Alex Lendrum ’13 is the second-fastest Trojan ever in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke as well as the 200-yard individual medley. The two-time All-American also completed premed studies as a biochemistry major, posting a 3.76 cumulative GPA and making the Dean’s List every semester of his college career.

Putting athletics and academics on parallel paths takes discipline. “You get home from practice, eat a good meal, and study,” Lendrum says. “And then you wake up, go to practice, go to class and then you study.”

Even more discipline is required in spring, when traveling to competitions forces swimmers to miss entire weeks of class. But, Lendrum says, “you find time, and everything gets done.”

Fortunately, USC professors are supportive. “They associate athletics with hard work and discipline,” he says. “They see it as a good thing.”

As co-captain of the men’s swim team during his junior and senior years, Lendrum encouraged his teammates to follow his lead in making athletics and academics both No. 1 priorities. “One of the things I tried to impress upon the freshmen is how important that first-semester GPA is,” he says. “That’s what helps you get certain awards and jobs.”

Lendrum speaks from experience. A three-time Pac-12 All-Academic First Team selection, 2013 Capital One Academic All-America First Team member and 2013 Pac-12 Men’s Swimming Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Lendrum received a prestigious NCAA postgraduate scholarship for combined excellence as a swimmer and a scholar. He’s now taking a year off to work with an orthopaedic surgeon and learn about the discipline of surgery—something he didn’t have time to do as a student-athlete—as he interviews with medical schools.

Lendrum grew fascinated with physiology and the function of the human body through his study of biochemistry. But it was his experience as an athlete that drew him to orthopaedics.

“You have to be so in tune with your body when you’re an athlete, and the same thing goes with being a physician,” he says. “I think it’ll be a good transition.”

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