For most students, the road to Baker University is a pretty typical journey from high school hallways to college dorm rooms, but nontraditional student Calvin Pearce chose a much more challenging path to higher education while fulfilling his dream to play football.
Pearce is 25, and until last spring he was living with his wife, Eboni, in sunny San Diego. Pearce said he met Eboni in the seventh grade when they dated until her parents sent her to a new school. They were reunited when they were teenagers.
"She ended up working at a bank and my buddy's father was the branch manager, and he always used to come in there and she used to ask about me, and he ended up giving her my number," Pearce said. "We started off where we left off."
The pair decided to elope when they were 19, but not everyone was so happy about the union. Pearce said Eboni's mother basically told him he had taken on a lot of responsibility.
"That's when I decided I needed to fulfill every obligation to make sure my wife graduated from college," he said.
While Eboni attended the University of California San Diego, Pearce worked as a truck driver for a home improvement store named Dixieline Probuild.
Eboni's desire to go to college is matched only by Pearce's desire to play football. He has been a linebacker ever since his Pop Warner years. He played for Grossmont Junior College and started searching for a four-year university where he could continue his education and play the sport he loves.
"I was trying to see where I could get the most academic scholarship and for football," he said. "I had a pretty decent GPA coming out of Grossmont and I was able to get the best package at Baker. So I thought this was the best opportunity."
Pearce admires how well organized the football team is at Baker. He said the weight-training program is excellent and has helped him become stronger and faster.
"I like the guys," he said. "The guys took me in like family since day one."
Eboni said she always used to tell her parents that Pearce was her soul mate. She was excited about the move to Baldwin City so he could go to college and continue his passion for football.
"The people are super nice here and there is not a lot of traffic," Eboni said. "We have nice neighbors."
Both Eboni and Pearce are first-generation college students. She earned her degree in psychology and has applied for Baker's School of Nursing. She said if she is accepted, they will be in Kansas for at least three more years but after that, they will probably end up moving back to San Diego.
"It's somewhere familiar, I miss the familiar," she said.
Head football coach Mike Grossner described Pearce as a solid guy and a fine football player. Grossner heard about him from a recruiter in California. He said Pearce and Eboni seemed to really enjoy their visit to Kansas and the move was a real change for them.
Grossner said Pearce brings an element of time management, which the whole team can benefit from.
"He has a lot of worries outside of football but he comes to every practice with a good attitude," Grossner said. "I think when you get to his age; you understand what a privilege it is to play college sports."