After an Academic All-Big Ten selection and hockey All-American at Ohio State in 2003, R.J. Umberger's academic career was cut short when he left the university to pursue a career in the NHL. Now nearly 10 years after he began working towards his degree, Umberger graduated from Ohio State on June 12th.
"I always had the intention of finishing," Umberger said. "I've been working on it for six off-seasons and I didn't like having it incomplete."
As a member of the Philadelphia Flyers organization, Umberger began taking classes again following 2004-05 season after winning the Calder Cup with the American Hockey League's Philadelphia Phantoms.
While trying to make the NHL squad in Philadelphia in 2005-06, Umberger took classes at nearby Temple University and transferred the credits to Ohio State. He was called up that season, played in 73 NHL games and finished fourth on the team in goals.
After taking numerous online classes in Philadelphia, his path to graduation became clearer after being traded to Columbus before the 2008-09 season. Now only a short distance from Ohio State’s campus, Umberger said he laid out a plan to finish his degree by the summer of 2011.
"It was exciting to come back to a place I was so familiar with and had a connection to," he said. "I have a lot of friends here and once I got here it was a no-brainer to finish my degree."
Once he was in close parameters with his school, Umberger said he took classes in person instead of online as he had done previously.
Often commended for his hard work on the ice, he now has something to show for his work off the ice, as well.
In order to finish his degree, Umberger had to pass on opportunities such as the chance to represent Team USA at the 2010 IIHF World Championships in Germany.
But despite a few missed opportunities, Umberger said he did not want to deviate from his plan.
"I was so close to finishing, and you never know what's going to happen so I wanted to be prepared. It was a challenge I wanted to take on," he said. "I also thought it would set a good example for my kids and allow me to be a good role model for them."
Now an alternate captain for the Blue Jackets, Umberger has played in 474 NHL games with the Flyers and Blue Jackets. He said he hopes his degree in Business Marketing will help him stay involved in hockey long after his playing career ends.
"I would like to find a position in hockey after I finish playing and I think a business background may help to do that," Umberger said.