why an offensive lineman is in commercials

How is it that an offensive lineman drafted in the fifth round, who started just thirteen of his first forty games while earning zero NFL Pro Bowl selections found himself featured in two nationally televised commercials? One was alongside three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J. J. Watt. How does that happen? Storytelling. John Urschel’s story is unlike anything you’ve seen from a professional football player, and because of that, fans, journalists, and sponsors can’t get enough.

Urschel’s story is of an athlete with an intellect so rare that it transcends sports. His television appearances have little to do with his ability to protect the quarterback or open holes for a running back; they have everything to do with the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics that he earned while playing football at Penn State. Not to mention the William V. Campbell Trophy, also known as the “academic Heisman,” that he earned while in college. Oh, and his unexpected celebrity status almost certainly has something to do with his pursuance of a Ph.D. in mathematics from MIT, one of the most respected schools for mathematics in the world—all while playing professional football. Urschel has made such a name for himself that in 2017, Forbes named him to their “30 Under 30” list celebrating outstanding young scientists.


“I plan to be a great mathematician.” —John Urschel


There is perhaps no better example of an athlete using his athletic influence and platform to build notoriety around a personal brand. Is he the first scholar to play football? Not by a long shot; Stanford, Duke, Michigan, and many more college football programs can attest to that. But he’s one of the first to write a story that leads with academia, not athletics. Urschel’s story is not of a football player who happens to be an intellectual. Urschel’s story is of an intellectual who happened to play football. And it’s for that reason that Urschel’s brand is in demand.



John Urschel is football’s mathematician.