Former University of Kentucky football player Dr. Jim Kovach has been named to the College of Sports Information Directors Academic All-America Hall of Fame.
Kovach was one of four to receive the honor, which is for student-athletes who were Academic All-America in college and have gone on to great distinction during their post-athletic careers.
An Academic All-America selection in 1978 in addition to being named a first-team All-Southeastern Conference linebacker, Kovach is UK's career leader in tackles (521). He was the first player in modern NCAA history to attend medical school while playing major college football. He also helped lead UK to its last SEC championship in 1976.
Kovach joins former Colgate basketball player Adonal Foyle, former Oklahoma defensive lineman Dewey Selmon, and former Connecticut College rowing star Anita DeFrantz in this year's class. Previous winners have included notables such as basketball star/Senator Bill Bradley, football star/actor Merlin Olsen and football star/Supreme Court Justice Byron "Whizzer" White.
The 54-year-old Kovach is now the president and chief operating officer of the Buck Institute for Age Research, the only independent research institute dedicated to aging and age-associated disease. He credited his time at UK with laying the foundation for his future success.
"When I found out about the award, it really took me back to all the support I got as a student-athlete at UK," Kovach said. "Guys like (associate athletics director) Bob Bradley, who's still there, and Coach (Fran) Curci really made a lot of it possible. You have to have the desire as a student-athlete to balance studies and athletics, but you also have to have the support from the administration. One of the big differences for me was UK providing any tutors or books that I needed, allowing me to modify my schedule to make classes and miss practice. I was really fortunate."
Kovach played on Wildcats teams that included all-time greats such as Art Still, Derrick Ramsey and Warren Bryant and said that everybody respected his commitment to academics.
"When we were freshmen, we were all over at Haggin Hall, the freshman dorm, after the first day of classes," Kovach recalled. "I went to my room and started studying. Well, there was a bunch of noise outside my wing, and everybody was partying. I peeked my head out and said, 'What are you guys doing; why aren't you studying.' So I kind of identified myself early on as the 'studious linebacker.' The neat part about it was that everybody accepted me for what I was. I could be one of the guys, yet everybody respected me for this calling."
Kovach went on to play seven seasons in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers, leading the Saints in tackles from 1981-84 and earning team MVP honors in 1983. Kovach attended medical school during the NFL off-seasons and earned his medical degree from UK in 1984. He also earned a law degree from Stanford in 1990.
"I think that as I look back on my career, I could have been a stronger football player had I sacrificed a little bit on academics," he said. "While guys were training in the off-season, I was in medical school on call. But I don't have any second thoughts or regrets at all. My life has turned out to be a unique path."
The business side of college sports has made it more difficult to be extraordinary both on the field and in the classroom, but Kovach said he's not discouraged by what he sees in today's student-athletes.
"The kids haven't changed," he said. "The environment has made it more challenging. I think the pressure and year-round training has made it more difficult for athletes."