MOON TWP — When Nolan Nearhoof opted to attend Robert Morris University, he followed in his brother’s footsteps.
The Mars graduate and Colonial senior defensive end developed into a tough act to follow.
Nearhoof was recently selected as a National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete by the NFF and the College Hall of Fame. He will travel to New York City Monday and be honored during the 55th NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 4.
He is also one of 15 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is awarded to the best scholar-athlete in the nation.
“That’s an incredible honor,” Robert Morris assistant head coach and defensive line coach John Banaszak said. “Those 15 finalists cover all divisions of college football, more than 600 teams.
“Nolan is a true student-athlete. He’s accomplished as much on the field as he has off it.”
Nearhoof carries a 3.77 grade-point average as a biology major and plans to attend physical therapy school next year. He had 76 tackles this season — second on the team — with 13 tackles for loss and his 10 1/2 quarterback sacks ranked sixth in the nation among Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) schools.
He owns the RMU and Northeast Conference records for career quarterback sacks with 26 1/2. He was a three-time all-conference defensive end and a three-time Academic All-American.
“My brother Ryan was a linebacker here and I made the decision to come play football with him again,” Nearhoof said. “We were teammates at Robert Morris for two years.
“Duquesne, Richmond and Maine were also on my list, but I think I made the right move.”
As a sophomore, the 6-foot-1, 250-pound Nearhoof was part of a conference championship at RMU, which resulted in the school’s first FCS playoff appearance.
“We had some great guys on the team that year and what we were able to accomplish ... that’s my favorite memory,” Nearhoof said.
Banaszak said Nearhoof will leave Robert Morris “as the most decorated player in this program’s 19-year history.”
“That guy lined up against offensive tackles standing 6-5 and weighing 320 pounds and still got to the quarterback consistently. He had speed and quickness, but he did it with heart. He had more RPMs than any player I’ve ever coached,” Banaszak added.
Nearhoof had no idea about the magnitude of the NFF Scholar-Athlete Award when he first received word of it. He earns an $18,000 scholarship for being one of the finalists.
He is the only player selected as a finalist from the 121 FCS programs. Other finalists include USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Notre Dame All-America linebacker Manti Te’o.
“During preseason camp this year, our athletic director told me I was being nominated for this award and wanted a copy of my transcripts,” Nearhoof recalled. “I wasn’t sure what it was all about.
“I still wasn’t sure what it was until recently, when Coach (Joe) Walton called me into his office and explained it to me. I’m pretty excited about this trip.”
Walton released a statement regarding Nearhoof’s award.
“It’s an incredible honor not only for Nolan, but for the entire Robert Morris community and our athletic department,” Walton said. “It’s a tremendous distinction for our school to be included in such company.”
Robert Morris finished 4-7 this season, Nearhoof’s last on a football field.
“Football has been a great passion of mine and I’m going to miss it,” Nearhoof said. “But you can’t play forever.”
Banaszak coached Nearhoof during all four of his years with the Colonials.
“His motor never stopped,” Banaszak said. “The guy whose sack record he broke here was a two-time Academic All-American who is extremely successful in engineering right now.
“Guys like those two are the reason I coach at this level.”