Mechanical Engineering Senior Balances Football, Academics

October 22, 2015 | LSU Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering

Mechanical engineering senior Tommy LeBeau knows that one day this, too, shall pass. But for right now, he’s right in the midst of one of the busiest semesters of his college career, balancing athletics and academics.

Hailing from Monroe, LeBeau doesn’t know a time when he wasn’t playing football, or any sport, for that matter. He played soccer, baseball, basketball and even tennis during his senior year of high school at Ouachita Parish High School.

“The first sport I ever played was soccer,” he explained. “I think my mom ended up writing down the wrong age, and I ended up playing with kids much older than I was at the time.”

Though he tried his hand at many sports, and kept up with soccer to keep his footwork well trained, football was always his first love.

“I remember leaving soccer games at half time because I cared more about my football,” LeBeau said. “So, I was leaving soccer, changing in the car, rolling up to football and jumping into that game.”

A typical day for LeBeau may start any time between 6 and 7:30 a.m. with a football workout and end around midnight. His classes on Thursday—the busiest day of the week for him—are stacked from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. without any breaks between them. He sometimes packs a small lunch to eat during an independent study class, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering.

LeBeau was originally slated to pursue an aerospace minor to accompany his degree in mechanical engineering. He planned to choose technical electives, elective classes required to graduate from the engineering college, which aligned with the course requirements for an aerospace minor.

“They only offered the aerospace classes from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. everyday of the week, and I wouldn’t have been able to practice for football, so I started to have to reconsider,” he said.

The one-on-one nuclear engineering class and an additional welding class fit into his schedule.

Because he knew that he was on track to complete his degree in five years, combined with the fact that he was playing football on a collegiate level, he saw the time as an opportunity to pick up a minor outside of engineering. LeBeau decided a minor in business would suit him well.

“Just in case I want to start my own business, an engineering firm, I’ll already have the knowledge from the minor,” he added.

His wife, Alexandra, also inspired him to pursue the business minor. She’s currently seeking a graduate degree in accounting at LSU, and will complete the program in December.

“I told her I wanted to learn a little about what she does,” LeBeau said. “So, I took basic level accounting and such. Sometimes, I joke with her about possibly taking thermodynamics and a few physics courses.”

After classes end at 3 p.m., LeBeau hops on his motorcycle and heads to football practice that usually ends around six, but sometimes ends later, depending on the day. After practice, he has dinner in the stadium cafeteria, and then meets up with his capstone design team. Those meetings can last anywhere between one and three hours, depending on what is due for the mandatory design course.

“I’m in the middle of interviews, trying to get job offers,” he said, noting recent interviews that fell on a Monday and Thursday. “So, that means I was up for morning workouts at 5:30, then went to the interviews, then went to class after all of that,” LeBeau said with a laugh.

He usually returns home around 10:30 or 11 p.m. and begins his studies for his other classes. “All in all,” he said, “I try to be in bed around 12, 12:30 a.m., and then I get up and start all over again.”

LeBeau became a walk-on player for LSU Football during the second semester of his freshmen year. He didn’t play for the team during his first semester as a mechanical engineering student.

“I was always raised my whole life, ‘School comes first. Grades before you can play,’ that’s how my parents raised me,” he said.

He found navigating the time commitment between athletics and academics a challenge, he said, but not impossible.

“I never really questioned quitting. I’d already put too much time into engineering, and I liked engineering; I was good at it,” he said. “I wasn’t failing any classes, and my GPA actually remains pretty good.”

His time on the football team grew better and better, and by his second year, he had gained playing time on special teams.

“I’m not going to lie, sometimes it’s tough being a walk-on, and you have to work your way up. I eventually worked my way and started getting playing time on special teams, which for me, is a really awesome thing,” he said.

LeBeau kept up his positivity, determination and tenacity and saw his efforts rewarded once more a few short years later, during his fourth year in school.

“I ended up getting put on scholarship, which was huge,” he said. “That’s a big change—going from paying for everything to getting a scholarship. It’s really a blessing.”

Before receiving the athletic scholarship, LeBeau was TOPS eligible and had received several smaller scholarships from the College of Engineering. His parents also were able to offer financial support for living costs. He also worked paid internships during the summer.

With football, LeBeau wanted to stay near LSU during the summer. He said most of the football team stays in Baton Rouge during the summer to train, though it is not mandatory, to prepare for the upcoming season.

“I was able to work 40 hours a week at Jacobs, and work out for football,” he said. “So, I was able to save up a good bit of money to help pay for school and rent, and help out my parents, really.”

At Jacobs, an engineering consulting firm, LeBeau worked as a mechanical engineer with a team of other engineers. His role was conducting evaluations by analyzing vendor data for different parts and seeing what was technically acceptable for design constraints. He would sift through the data, make a technical recommendation and pass it along to his supervisor.

“It really was the longest process ever,” he said, grinning. “I don’t think I ever got to see something go all the way through, and I was there for about 3 months. Shortly after I left, I got a message from a co-worker that was like, ‘Hey! Your pump package finally went through.’”

LeBeau said that playing football helps him with a number of things within engineering. Teamwork, communication and time management are all skills he’s picked up along the way.

“I’ve learned that there’s not a second to spare,” he said. “Sometimes, it is hard to study with that mentality, though.”

“A lot of times, you can’t just force certain things to happen. It’s a process. It’s really hard to just sit down and make yourself learn and know something, you have to make yourself go slow through it.”

He also credits both engineering and football with giving him the ability to visualize abstract thought and concepts.

“In engineering, you talk about concepts that are so abstract, on the molecular level, and sometimes it can get confusing, just from how something is oriented,” he said. “So, just being able to see it in your mind, how something is going to work, intuitively like that, helps you figure things out.”

He explained the acquired skill helps in football when plays or concepts are discussed among the team. While he acknowledges he “doesn’t know every single thing about the sport,” having that practice of visualization on and off the field benefits him greatly.

LeBeau makes it a priority to stay levelheaded through every situation, and to “think as clearly as I can, and not get overwhelmed or anxious or frustrated.”

“It’s going to be okay. There’s nothing that can happen that won’t work out,” he said. “I always remind myself, ‘This too shall pass.’ This semester will end, this time period will pass.”

He explained it’s sometimes difficult to get past wanting to give 100 percent to everything he’s involved in, and with being so involved, it’s possible that some things may go lacking.

“Sometimes, because you’re so spread thin, you want to give your all in everything you do,” he said. “I’m all in for this class, but I have five other classes I’m trying to be all in for as well.”

LeBeau said he takes advantage of his resources to keep himself on track, like writing things down and using the calendar app on his phone. He said his wife helps out quite a bit, too, though they both have busy schedules to navigate.

Any free time that comes up, he spends with Alexandra. They’re also very involved in their home church, Grace Baptist Church, which is a source a solace for him.

“I try to tell myself, ‘Your GPA is not everything,’” he explained. “And it’s not. It’s more about me being satisfied with giving my best effort. If I do my best at something, and I come out with a grade I wasn’t striving for, then I still know that I gave my best. And that’s what it's about: knowing that I gave my best effort.”

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