Chris Jakubik could have walked away from football as a champion. After all, he was an all-league second-team pick as a member of Albion College's 2013 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship team.
A student in one of Albion's programs of distinction, the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management, Jakubik could have found a job and let another defensive back take care of the hassle of preventing fleet-footed receivers from streaking down the sideline.
Jakubik had a year of eligibility remaining after transferring to Albion, however, and the bonds that form between teammates proved to be too strong to walk away from.
So instead of completing his degree and moving behind a desk, Jakubik slowed his coursework last spring to experience life as a student, an athlete, and as a professional for one last season with the Britons. He is taking two classes; averaging 20-25 hours per week as the accounting and finance controller for Caster Concepts, one of the leading manufacturing plants in Albion; and serving as one of the veteran leaders for the Britons.
"I came back for the guys I came in with," said Jakubik, who was also recently featured in the Detroit Free Press. "We've grown up together. I feel like we haven't accomplished all that we could have done. We've won the MIAA championship, but there are certain goals we've set every year – winning games when the team has an overnight stay and competing with some of the better teams in the country. That's what we set our minds on after our first year here when we walked into an MIAA championship team.
"It is about putting in all the work with your teammates, your brothers on the football team, and wanting to enrich the program with more success."
Albion ended the 2013 campaign with a loss to North Central (Ill.) in an NCAA Division III Championship first-round game, and as he looked at the seniors in the postgame huddle, Jakubik wasn't ready to walk away.
"There were a lot of emotions from the seniors [after the loss at North Central)]– it was all the emotions of 20 years of football running together," Jakubik said. "And that's how I knew I had to come back because it wasn't hitting me like it should have."
A long and winding road
With all respect to Paul McCartney, Jakubik's football career has had peaks and valleys. He came in as an understudy to Chris Greenwood, the MIAA's Defensive Most Valuable Player in 2011.
The 2012 season was lining up to be special for Albion. The Britons were the defending MIAA champions, had momentum after earning a 22-21 victory over the nationally ranked team from Wheaton (Ill.), and there was a feeling Albion could challenge those top teams. Injuries, however, deflated those good feelings. Jakubik was included in that spate of injuries: he lost time when a cut on his knee from a cleat required 22 stitches, then he injured the other knee upon his return.
While he has been a member of two MIAA championship teams at Albion, Jakubik says putting success in perspective is essential in the professional environment.
"You learn how to deal with success and build upon failure and adversity," he said. "Going through such high emotions, you build characteristics to understand the situation around you and how to act upon that situation.
"[The highs and lows during my career] are difficult to wrap your mind around and it has been a wild ride," he added. "It's all part of growing up and becoming a man. Head Coach Craig Rundle always tells us how this is way beyond football, and it has been helpful as I've made the transition into the work world. Football has taught me to deal with adversity, to deal with failure and how to bring a professional outlook to the environment."
Launching a career
Jakubik relied on the lessons of determination and teamwork he's gained from football as he started work at Caster Concepts last spring. What started as an internship in January became a full-time position in May when his supervisor departed. The training wheels came off: he logged 60 hours a week as he made the transition from working on a specific project to overseeing the accounting and payroll for the Albion plant and its subsidiaries.
"Playing football gives me a break from reality," Jakubik said. "The summer was hectic. Working full-time made me appreciate what I have the ability to do. It would have hurt to decide not to come back for this season because knowing I have this opportunity to play got me through those tough times when I was working to learn the new position. There is nothing like playing football to relieve all the stress you have."
Law school was his No. 1 goal coming out of high school, but now Jakubik admits having a full-time job while finishing his football career has accelerated and perhaps changed his future goals. He is now considering work on a master's degree in finance, business administration, or accounting and becoming a chief financial officer.
The key to becoming a successful student-athlete is to take advantage of all the opportunities.
"I enriched myself with everything I could possibly fit into my schedule," Jakubik, a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and Investment Club, said. "Obviously my time-management skills increased, but all these activities help you develop your organizational skills. It gets messy, and sometimes you overbook yourself, but you learn from that. The next time you won't make the same mistake.
"It's really about your future," he added. "Putting in the work now gives you an easier route to success in life rather than waiting until later in life."