A Real Team Player
Wofford College’s Ben Foster makes doing for others a daily priority and a future goal.By Lydia Lum
Picture the average running back, sprinting down the field, rushing yards and scoring touchdowns. Then picture Wofford College’s Ben Foster, who is better known for his blocking than for rushing and scoring — a fact that illustrates Foster’s team-oriented character both on and off the field. In fact, Foster’s character has earned him so much respect that he was named football team captain, student body president and NCAA advisory representative at the small private school in Spartanburg, S.C. Those close to Foster describe the graduating senior as ambitious, yet easy-going; outspoken, yet respectful; curious, yet sensitive. Therefore, it’s not surprising to learn that Foster, an avid sportsman and community volunteer, hopes to become a doctor and work in South Africa.
“I have three sons, and if they turn out to be like Ben Foster, I would be so happy,” says Mark Cohen, Wofford’s assistant athletic director. “Ben is Joe College. He defines what student-athletes should be.”
A three-year starter and letterman, some of Foster’s career statistics might mislead one to believe the halfback was a bench warmer. Since 1998, Foster has tallied 11 career receptions for 124 yards. He rushed for 426 yards and two touchdowns. But in 1999, he reaped honors as the team’s Offensive Player of the Week for his blocking against Middle Tennessee State University. Even though Wofford lost that game 52-42, Foster’s blocks helped the Terriers rack up 500 yards of offense, Cohen says. Foster also helped lift the team to a 7-4 season in 2000 and a No. 23 national ranking in final Division I-AA polls.
A high school football player, Foster accepted the role of blocker at Wofford because the offense already was built around fullbacks getting the ball. “I wanted to play, and so I did what I needed to do to contribute,” Foster says. “Football is like a family.”
His leadership and spirit led to him being named to NCAA student-athlete advisory committees dealing with legislation and rules changes. He also was one of only two student-athletes nationally to serve on the NCAA Division I football issues committee. Southern Conference president Dr. Ted Monroe recounts how Foster was the only committee member advocating that a group of student-athletes, controversial for unionizing efforts, address the committee. Other committee members overruled Foster, but Monroe took note of his words. “Ben stood up for what he believed,” says Monroe, who also is a Wofford math professor. “He wanted to hear what they had to say. He was professional and thoughtful.”
At 5 feet 8 inches tall, and 185 pounds, Foster’s playing days may have ended, though he is open to coaching someday.
The middle of five children, Foster began playing football at age 4 with his older brothers at home in Kennesaw, Ga. At Harrison High School, the three played one season together before the oldest headed for college. Their parents always steered them toward college, Foster says. His minister father and his mother, an insurance agent who became a church administrator, did not finish college. Academic and athletic scholarships secured Foster a free ride to Wofford, where tuition, room and board now top $23,000 annually.
In high school, Foster also wrestled, ran track and played left field on the baseball team. But ironically, it was football that turned his attention to medicine even before high school. At age 13, he broke his leg playing in a community league football game. His doctor calmed the angry and impatient Foster, advising him to sit out the rest of the season and heal. The doctor’s demeanor impressed him. “He spoke to me as if I was already an adult, not just a kid,” Foster remembers. “That made me listen. I understood how hurt I was, and how playing too soon would make things worse. I understood there would be plenty of time in my life to play.”
The fact that a doctor, especially an orthopedist, could help athletes and other injured people caught Foster’s interest. But it was a college trip to South Africa in January 2001 that showed him how medicine can help the social and economic underclass.
Foster was one of two Black students who went on the trip. A Wofford trustee sponsored their costs. The trustee had asked if any Blacks were among the 18 students scheduled to go, then learned that no Black students could afford the trip, Wofford faculty say. Of course, the students hit the tourist spots, but they also observed post-apartheid racial tensions, political strife and poverty on the streets. “That was the biggest learning experience,” Foster says. “For all the problems in the United States, I have a ton of opportunities. I am paid to get an education. One Black boy called me ‘Mr. America.’ He said I was so lucky. He wasn’t even in school.”
Foster says he wants to go back to South Africa, “hopefully as a doctor, maybe work in an AIDS clinic or treat infectious disease.” In the meantime, he has been accepted to one medical school and has interviewed at others. He plans to enroll this fall.
For his part, Foster encourages other student-
athletes “to do as much as you can, but not too much.” That’s tough to digest, coming from a young man whose activities include volunteering for Big Brothers and Big Sisters; coordinating a Spartanburg anti-violence program for teens; participating in basketball intramurals and serving as vice president of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Academically, he has made the Dean’s List and the Blue Key National Honor Fraternity. Yet Foster says he is most proud of being student body president this year. Wofford’s 1,100-member student population is 89 percent White. “I’m grateful to have connected with so many different people,” he says.
It shows, says Dr. Ellen Goldey, who taught Foster freshman biology, as well as anatomy. While remaining academically focused, Foster is chatty with classmates, always asking their weekend plans, according to Goldey, an assistant professor of biology.
“Ben is very eager to make friends,” Goldey says. “He has poise. He has humility. A student like Ben comes along once a decade.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com