We regarded it as the perfect late-spring exercise, a task well-suited to this season of diplomas and mortarboards, pomp and circumstance and Seussian places to go. To find SI's first College Athletes of the Year, we surveyed the nation's campuses, scouring gyms and stadiums, labs and lecture halls in search of the beau ideal of the well-rounded college athlete. We sought out head-turning sporting achievement, to be sure, but we also looked for jocks who made an outsized impact in the classroom or in their communities. We found our ideal in North Carolina field hockey player Loren Shealy and Cornell wrestler Kyle Dake.
As we hunted for our inaugural honorees, we knew we had a tricky task. Shealy and Dake would throw down markers, setting a standard for all who follow. We know from the depth and range of our other eight finalists (go to SI.com for a full profile of each) how many worthy candidates are out there. A 4.85 weighted grade-point average? No problem. A four-sport athlete in this era of specialization? You bet.
College is an experience available to a great many of us, a democratic interval that comes at the same juncture in the lives of just about all who choose it. It's a window large enough for real achievements, the kind of exploits that can stir in us wonder of the wide-eyed kind. And then, looking back, we might be struck by another kind of wonder: I wonder if I made of my four years all that I could have. If the answer is negative, there's consolation in being able to behold those who did. So it is with Loren Shealy and Kyle Dake, whom we give deserved pomp for what they have done with common circumstance.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY DAVID DESPAU