Earning Ole Miss degrees becoming a family affair
By Christina Steube
University of Mississippi
Tonya Metcalf, a University of Mississippi graduate student, sat in the Lyceum Circle on a brisk October morning talking with a tall, smiling young man. She brushed his hair to make sure it was just right.
At first glance, the scene seems ordinary, but these aren’t two average students. The young man is DeKaylin Metcalf, a freshman majoring in hospitality management and a talented wide receiver on the Ole Miss football team. Tonya is his mother, who is pursuing a master’s degree in speech language pathology.
The Metcalf name is familiar to Ole Miss faithful. Father and husband Terrence Metcalf was an All-American offensive lineman for the Rebels from 1998 to 2001 before embarking on a seven-year NFL career.
Both Terrence and Tonya have served as role models for D.K. and his four siblings. A focus on education is one of the cornerstones of the family’s values, D.K. said.
“I try to be my best,” he said. “I didn’t want to be another statistic that says football players are just dumb jocks, so I try to stay on top of my grades and I work really hard to maintain a 3.5 or above.”
Terrence, an offensive line coach at Pearl River Community College, returned to Ole Miss this summer to finish coursework for his bachelor’s degree in human resource management. When he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2002, he was six classes shy of his degree. He took several of them over time throughout his football career and completed his last one, economic statistics, in July.
So for a time, all members of the Metcalf household were enrolled in school.
“When the game is over, the game is over and you need your education to fall back on,” Terrence said. “I’m grateful that D.K. is able to attend Ole Miss and not only develop himself as a football player, but also get an education from what I consider the best school in the South.”
“I placed education and faith as top priorities to my children and family,” Tonya said. “Grades are very important to me and I stay on them constantly about their education and being responsible when it comes to taking care of your schoolwork.”
D.K.’s academic success keeps Tonya, who earned a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences from Ole Miss in 2001, on her toes in her own studies.
“When I was in the pre-requisite classes, I would get a C and I was happy,” she said. “My kids would say, ‘No, we don’t go for Cs.’ But in this program, you can only have As and Bs, so now I can stay on top of them again.”
An Oxford family
The Metcalfs live in Oxford, which has benefitted both Tonya and D.K. in the transition to college. Tonya’s admission to the exclusive program in the School of Applied Sciences allows her juggle the role of student and mother.
“I’m very fortunate to be given the opportunity to be here in this program where I can still be home and raise my family,” she said.
Her courses and field work have allowed her to experience on-site learning in hospitals, school systems and nursing homes.
“The training gives you a feel of where you may want to pursue a career after graduation,” she said. “With this degree, I can work with NICU babies all the way up to the elderly, so it’s a wide range of opportunities to help people.”
Living nearby makes the transition easier for D.K. as well, since Terrence experienced some of the same things D.K. is going through as a student-athlete, she said.
“Anytime I want to get a home-cooked meal, I can just go home, and I know a lot of students don’t have the privilege to go back home to see their siblings or mom or grandma,” D.K. said. “It’s a blessing.”
But he doesn’t take advantage of having his parents nearby. He refrains from calling to ask for errands or favors while on campus, even when he spotted his mom between classes over the summer.
“I tried to be on my own a little bit and grow up,” D.K. said. “But it was really exciting just to see her. It gave me peace to know she’s always around.”
Tonya loved seeing her son around campus but allowed him to be as independent as possible even though having him out of her home for the first time was hard.
“He was handling his business and I was handling mine, and he adjusted better than I thought he would.”
A highly-sought recruit out of Oxford High School, D.K. broke his left foot Sept. 10 during the Wofford game. Although his injury will keep him out the rest of the season, his days still consist of football practice, study hall time and three weekly tutoring sessions.
“The academic staff is doing a really great job to make sure football players and all athletes stay on top of their work,” he said.
No rivalry — yet
D.K. said there isn’t any academic rivalry between him and his mother – yet. But he wants to continue to excel in all aspects of life to be the best possible role model for his four siblings.
“To know they’re looking up to me and watching my every move shows me I can’t mess up,” he said. “If I disappoint one of them, it’s going to be hard on me. I just have to walk around knowing a lot of eyes are on me and I can’t slip up.”
Though D.K.’s college experience is much different than that of an average freshman, he shares his wisdom when it comes to being on one’s own for the first time.
“Stay in touch with your parents,” he advised. Parents are accustomed to seeing their children every day, “and now that you’re gone, it’s going to be really hard on them. Keep in touch with your parents and keep a good relationship with them because one day you’re going to need them, and I need mine.”