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Friday, March 30, 2012
Purdue players run (for) student body right

By Adam Rittenberg

On fall Saturdays, Ishmael Aristide and Rob Henry represent their fellow Purdue students in an extremely public and yet oddly detached way.

They play college football.

The most visible students on major college campuses are the football players who play before tens of thousands of fans. They wear the school colors and take the field to the school fight song. After home victories, they gather in front of their fellow students and celebrate. But often these are the only links the players have to the rest of the student body.

At many FBS schools, athletes form their own subcultures, and for many reasons, not the least of which is the time their sport requires, they go through their careers largely disconnected from their fellow students.

Ishmael Aristide
Ishmael Aristide, running for student-body president, plays safety, runs track, is a member of a national honor society ... and looks good shirtless.
Aristide and Henry are bridging the gap. They don't want to merely represent Purdue's student body on the field this fall. They want to do it every day for the next year.

That's why they're running for president and vice president of Purdue's student government. The two players share a ticket -- Aristide, a junior safety, is running for president; Henry, a junior quarterback, is running for VP -- and hope to be voted into office when the elections take place Monday through Wednesday.

"We've broken the stigma," Aristide told ESPN.com this week. "That's what Boilermakers are all about. We're not your conventional students and this isn't your conventional program. We're innovators."

Aristide and Henry are believed to be the first Purdue athletes ever to run for student government office. They're one of five tandems vying for the president and vice-president spots, and both men this week participated in debates for their respective positions.

They have an Ish-Rob campaign Web site that includes their policy proposals, bio information and two very entertaining campaign videos (more on that later). They're also promoting their campaign on Twitter here and here.

"A lot of people say, 'Why are you doing this?'" Henry said. "Ish and I say, 'Why not?' Why not do something that's groundbreaking? Why not do something that’s different than anything that's ever been done? Why not set an example for what a true student-athlete can be?"

The term student-athlete is often mocked -- and justifiably -- but both Aristide and Henry fit the description.

Ready to feel lazy about how you spent your college years?

Both Aristide and Henry are excellent students. Aristide twice has earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, while Henry hopes to earn his teaching certificate and might take on another minor. Aristide is a member of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Phi Sigma Pi national honors fraternity. Both men are heavily involved with the National Collegiate Players Association -- Henry is regional president -- and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Aristide participates in two sports at Purdue (football and track), while Henry started seven games in 2010 and would have been Purdue's starting quarterback last season if not for a knee injury suffered in August.

The two Florida natives have known each other since high school and are roommates at Purdue. Ironically, Aristide didn't run for student government in high school because he was so involved in sports (football, track and basketball).

"We're a lot alike," Henry said. "We're very ambitious people."

When they heard about the upcoming student government elections, they didn't hesitate to toss their names in the ring.

"We knew right away it was something we wanted to do," Aristide said.

They're were equally decisive about who would run for which position. The conversation took about five seconds.

The next step was discussing their plan with Purdue coach Danny Hope. The big concern with FBS players, who train year-round and log countless hours at the football complex, is time. Purdue's current student-body president said the job requires at least 25 hours a week and often 40 to 50.

"I'm excited for them and proud of them, but we had to address the time-management part of it," Hope said. "They did some research on it. They talked to past presidents and vice presidents about the time commitment and how things were organized, where there might be some flexibility when they have scheduling conflicts. And both those guys seemed to have a pretty good handle on it."

Hope's policy on players participating in on-campus organizations -- social, academic or service-oriented -- is simple. If a player is in good academic standing and can fulfill his commitment to both football and academics, Hope gives the green light.

It wasn't a tough sell for Aristide and Henry, both of whom carry GPAs above 3.0. Aristide was the first recruit to commit in Hope's first recruiting class (2009). Henry was the third.

"He was all for it," Aristide said. "Basically he stated that if there were ever two guys to do it, we were the two guys. Last semester, I took 21 credit hours along with playing football. And I'm in the middle of track season, so I'm in spring football and running track. Coach Hope knew automatically that Rob and I are responsible enough to hold those positions while playing football."

Rob Henry
Fellow junior Rob Henry, meanwhile, could find himself both vice president and the Boilermakers' starting QB come fall.
Hope admits he would have "real concerns" had Henry's name been at the top of the ballot. Quarterbacks spend several more hours per week at the football complex than other players, especially during the season. Henry is in the mix to be Purdue's starter in the fall.

"Obviously, our football commitment is first," Hope said. "That's what they came here to do, and their school commitment. ... Rob understands what the schedule's like. He's been living that life over the last two or three years. He knows where he has his flexibility, schedule-wise, to fulfill his vice-president role. My only advice for him was, 'Don't spread yourself too thin.'"

While Aristide and Henry would make school history if they won, there is precedent nationally. Former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward served as student-body vice president as a senior and went on to win the Heisman Trophy for that 1993 season.

"I did not know that," Henry said. "I don’t think Ish and I, either one of us would be opposed to winning the Heisman Trophy."

The two have spent the past few weeks talking to students, administrators and community leaders, including the mayors of both Lafayette and West Lafayette. They've spent a lot of time with international students, and have a proposal asking the school to provide a more transparent evaluation of a controversial tuition increase for those students.

Other campaign platforms include: more on-campus lighting; more flexibility with meal plans; The Hammer Pass, which excuses one parking ticket per semester for students, faculty and staff; and the "Bridging Gap Act," an initiative to improve student life with more concerts and reduced tickets or free passes to athletic events.

"They'll see two men who are leaders," said Aristide, in full stump-speech mode. "They'll see two men who are tenacious. They'll see two men who are literally willing to go out and fight."

According to Aristide, Purdue doesn't have a jock stigma, and athletes interact regularly with other students. But there's still some surprise when students learn of the Aristide-Henry ticket.

"When they hear about it, their eyebrows kind of raise," Henry said, "but at the same time, they're excited."

The Ish-Rob campaign isn't all about policies, though. They have two campaign videos that are quickly going viral.

The spots are spoofs of popular commercials for Old Spice and Dos Equis.

In one, Aristide, wearing only a towel and showing off his muscular frame, says, "Look at your other presidential candidates. Sadly, they don't look like me. And sadly, they aren't me. But you could vote for me, and I could be your president."

In the other, a sharply dressed Henry tells the camera, "The choice is easy. Vote for us, my friends."

"That guy is always talking about how good he looks," Aristide said. "I'm like, 'You know what? I look better than this guy. I need to do that commercial to show people.' I thought it would separate us from other candidates."

Aristide and Henry should carry the student-athlete vote, but Henry stops short of making any predictions for the election. They don't sound nervous about the result, and Aristide said the pressure of the positions doesn't compare with what they face in football.

As for a future in politics after football?

"No, not at all," Henry said, laughing. "You never know where life is going to take you, but right now, that's not any aspiration of mine. We want to do whatever we can to leave a positive impact on this campus. We're having a good time with this."