Jan. 25, 2012
BY AMANDA PRUITT
In August, Derek Paul traded in his T-shirts for button-downs and oxfords, but he swears he's the same guy.
While Paul is finishing up the final two months of his swimming career -- Senior Day is Saturday against Florida at 11 a.m. -- he is just starting down the road in law school at Tennessee.
Sure, his extended family gave him some good-natured grief about becoming a lawyer when he traveled home for the holidays after the first semester. His family away from home, his teammates, will joke about his new wardrobe when he arrives for practice.
Paul might be taking some new classes, but to the Vols, he's still the sports fanatic who consumes two hours of ESPN daily.
"They know the real me," Paul said with a laugh. "I won't be able to pull it over on everybody. They'll laugh at me because I'll try to dress a little nicer now, but it's pretty much the same."
You could probably construct a vast library stacked with books dedicated to lawyer jokes, but all kidding aside here: he's managing to balance the workload of graduate school that sometimes makes the best of students buckle under the pressure, all while training twice a day in the pool with the team.
Paul never had grand intentions of being a lawyer or wrapping up his undergraduate degree in three years when he arrived on campus in 2008 from Indianapolis. He just wanted to swim collegiately away from home, and the closeness of the Tennessee team won him over. While he says he could sometimes do without the winter weather ("I thought I'd go a little more South"), it's a decision he's not regretted.
The wheels of graduate school possibility started turning when he brought nearly a semester's worth of college credit from AP tests and high school courses, and one of the advisors from the Thornton Academic Center addressed the possibility of graduating early.
"I kind of just put it off -- I'm not going to try that!" Paul said. "But training here over the summer and picking up a class or two there, it just kind of worked out."
He debated getting his MBA, but then opted for the three-year law program.
Paul does not come from a long family line of lawyers. His dad, Hal, owns his own company and his mom, Nancy, is a librarian. Neither were as surprised at their son's new career aspirations than Paul himself.
"Honestly, it was more shocking to me when I got into law school that people would come up to me and say `My dad's a lawyer, my uncle's a lawyer,'' Paul said. "It was surprising how many people were just destined and knew their whole life what they were going to do. I had no idea until eight months ago."
Now Paul is rolling through his second semester of law school. Just like the fall, he's in the same classes with the same 50 students. Course topics this time around include civil procedure, properties, criminal law and legal process and research.
He was lucky to not have any scheduling conflicts during the fall season. Now, a few classes cut into practice time, so he has to train by himself at the pool twice a week at 5:30 a.m.
Swimmers by nature have a busier schedule than most with morning and afternoon training sessions. Greatness in the sport is developed by hours swimming laps at Allan Jones Aquatic Center as Tennessee prepares to host the SEC Championships next month.
Before even starting the law school application process, Paul questioned if he would have time to balance it all. He was being realistic. Very few student-athletes venture the halls of law or medical schools before completing their eligibility, but after some advice, he started filling out the paperwork.
The school schedule is a little more challenging these days, but again, Paul says he remains unchanged. The only new features in his schedule include more academic research and -- as time allows -- more naps.
"All the guys I talked to and even guys I know from other schools, when we're on a break from swimming, we don't know what to do with ourselves," Paul said. "I don't know what normal students do all day."