San Diego Chargers star defensive end Corey Liuget didn’t play organized football until he went to high school in Miami, but not because he didn’t want to. “I started playing in my neighborhood when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Liuget said,” but I was always big for my age, and they were going to make me play with the 12-year-olds.”
By the time he was a senior in high school, though, Liuget had plenty of muscle mass and many roles on his team – playing everything from quarterback and wide receiver to defensive end and tight end, sometimes all in the same game.
He also had plenty of college scouts hoping to convince him to choose their university. They liked his size, his strength, his versatility and his work ethic – something Liuget said he acquired at a very young age. “My mom raised me and my four older brothers by herself, after my dad passed away.” He described selling candy apples, peanuts, cakes and pies to help his mom make ends meet: “She did her best to raise us and to show us what it’s like to earn an honest dollar.”
She also emphasized the value of a college degree, and Liuget said she was thrilled when he decided to study at Illinois. He thought he’d like working with children, but he wasn’t sure what major was right for him. Then, he took a course on the culture of disability and met guest speaker Amy Armstrong, whose daughter has Down syndrome and catastrophic epilepsy.
“She talked about how her daughter, Larkin, wasn’t able to walk and be a ballerina or gymnast or anything like that,” Liuget said. “She let me know that I’m very special and talented, and that’s a gift I should treasure.”
That inspired Liuget to choose sociology as his major. As the child of Haitian immigrants, he was intrigued to study how the lack of basic resources – things people in the U.S. take for granted – can mean the difference between a thriving society and one that struggles.
“Something as simple as access to a flu shot can change the course of your life,” Liuget said. “Kids in other countries are just as smart as kids here, but if they don’t have access to medical care and education, they can’t reach their potential.”
While Liuget loved his studies at Illinois, the pull of professional football was strong.
Liuget’s on-field accomplishments at Illinois included a decisive win over Baylor in the 2010 Texas Bowl, sacks against Michigan and a 12-tackle game against Michigan State. He decided to enter the 2011 NFL draft and was selected by the San Diego Chargers.
So, he left school after his junior year for a multimillion-dollar NFL contract, but he never forgot the importance of a college degree. He took online courses for one semester, then he started spending off-seasons back on campus. This spring, he’s completing his final requirements to earn his bachelor’s degree in sociology.
His mom, his fiancée and his three young children will be there to watch him walk across the stage at commencement, and he plans to hang his diploma where he can see it every day. “I’ll put it somewhere my kids can see it too,” Liuget said.
In the second year of a five-year contract, Liuget hopes to play professional ball for several more years. But after football?
“I’ll definitely do something that lets me give back to my community. I’ve been so blessed,” he said. “I think I could do some motivational speaking to low-income kids, to help them see that the future can be bright if they work hard and get an education.”