Ben Carbery flexes his academic muscle

It’s impossible to look at 6-5, 265-pound Oak Park-River Forest offensive tackle Ben Carbery and not see a football player. And it’s nearly impossible to see Carbery line up for his other team picture and not crack a smile.

Carbery is the captain of Oak Park-River Forest’s Scholastic Bowl team, which finished 17th at the 2010 National Academic Quiz Tournament national championship. He finished eighth in the individual competition, then earned a spot on the four-person Team Illinois all-star team, which took third at a national tournament.

“The two guys I have sitting next to me, usually one’s about 5-4, one’s about 5-3,” Carbery said. “I probably do get some looks.”

Not from his teammates on the football team, though. To them, Scholastic Bowl -- commonly known as Quiz Bowl -- is just another offseason activity, like track or basketball. The football guys are Carbery’s closest friends, but he enjoys his brainy bunch, too.

“They’re complete nerds, and I am too,” Carbery said of his Scholastic Bowl teammates. “But it’s fun to hang out with those guys, mix it up a little bit.”

That’s something Carbery likes to do. In the spring, he’s going on a school trip to India.

“I have like a stack of books that I’m working through on Indian history and Indian culture,” he said.

Playbook first, though. He said his focus is football through the season. But after the last whistle, the buzzer sounds, and it’s usually Carbery answering.

From October to June, Carbery spends about every other Saturday at Scholastic Bowl meets. He takes his place on a different sort of line, sitting next to three teammates at a table, his hands drawn to a buzzer instead of a defensive end’s midsection.

The meets are exhausting like a football game, lasting from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

“It’s pretty intense,” Carbery said. “Concentrating for so long, you can get exhausted by the end of the day … After both of them [football games and Scholastic Bowl meets], I’ll just go home and sleep Saturday night.”

Other than hitting a buzzer to answer a question, the format and strategy of the competition isn’t simple. Carbery scores by far the most points of anyone on his team, but he said he relies on his teammates for math. Still, he’s the stud. At the national competition in June, Carbery scored 24 points. The rest of his team scored four.

With an ACT score of 34, he’s likely headed to an Ivy League school next year. Brown, Penn, Columbia, Harvard and Yale -- where both his parents went -- have offered him spots.

Although he’ll attend one of those schools to play football, the educational opportunity gets him just as excited.

Carbery says he’s more book smart than Xs-and-Os-smart, but he has his thoughts about how things are run on the field.

“He’s like so smart that he’ll talk back to the coaches,” running back Tony Stapleton said. “He always thinks he’s right, which he is 90 percent of the time.”

Carbery insists it’s more sharing his opinions than talking back, and his coaches appreciate the honesty, he said. On the field, he’s actually reserved most of the time. A level-headed leader, running back Zach Draus said.

Football is helping Carbery reach a place he wasn’t sure he could.

“It all kind of came unexpectedly, all the interest,” he said. “It always seemed like something that would be really hard to do for me [get into an Ivy League school], but I guess football opened that door.”

Other than history, mythology and philosophy -- Carbery’s best categories -- Draus and Stapleton are his main subjects. The two versatile backs will line up together in the backfield this year as part of Oak Park-River Forest’s new “Toledo” package, and they’re the keys to the Huskies’ spread offense, along with their experienced offensive line.

Occasionally, the Huskies will scratch the spread and run Draus or Stapleton up the middle behind Carbery, left guard Brad Oxnevad -- who is being recruited by several MAC schools -- and right tackle Isaac Chadri, an all-conference player last year.

The offensive line and backfield make Oak Park-River Forest a dangerous team this season. With Carbery, the school’s Scholastic Bowl team also is on a national level.

The 2011 national championship is in Atlanta, and Carbery said he’s going to try to raise some money to get the team there. Good chance he’ll figure it out.