These CS students are football champions

CS and college football are both big challenges. These students are champs at both!
Joshua Luther, Tyler McLaurin, and Joel Metzger
Joshua Luther, Tyler McLaurin, and Joel Metzger

The University of Michigan’s Team 144 has achieved the ultimate goal in college football, winning the College Football Playoffs to emerge as the championship team at the top of the sport. Getting there has taken incredible dedication, teamwork, hard work and an “enthusiasm unknown to mankind” by the nearly 200 students on the roster. 

Amongst those are three student athletes who have also chosen computer science as a degree path. In the wake of the team’s championship season, we’ve asked them to share about their experiences as football players and computer science students.

Joshua Luther, number 41, is a defensive back from Clarkston, Michigan. Currently pursuing a master’s of management from Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Joshua graduated with BSE degrees in both computer science and data science in 2023. As an undergraduate, Joshua was a recipient of the team’s Dr. Arthur D. Robinson Scholarship Award. He was named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar in 2023, and is a four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree (2020, 21, 22, and 23).

Tyler McLaurin, number 27, is an edge rusher who came to Michigan from Bolingbrook, Illinois. Tyler, a junior, is enrolled as a computer science major through the college of LSA. He is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree (2021, 22) and was named Defensive Scout Player of the Year in 2021.

Joel Metzger, number 54, is a linebacker from Battle Creek, Michigan. Joel, a junior, is enrolled as a computer science major through the college of LSA. He is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree (2022, 23) and was named the team’s Special Teams Scout Team Player of the Year in 2022.

How does it feel to be a part of the Championship Team 144?

Joshua: I take tremendous pride in being a part of the 144th football team at the University of Michigan. I’m proud of all the silent work that my teammates and I put in throughout the past couple of years, and it brings me great joy to see our efforts result in an undefeated championship season for our great University. Being a part of this team truly is a brotherhood. There is genuine love and support for one another within the team which I believe played a pivotal role in staying focused through all of the distractions as we frequently overcame adversity. I have extreme gratitude for the opportunity to compete as part of the team this year and am honored to contribute toward bringing happiness to Michigan fans across the globe. I’m inspired by the greatness that we achieved this season to continue to reach new heights and represent our great University that has opened up so many unique and wonderful opportunities for me.

Tyler: In my opinion, how much better can it get? The part that gets taken for granted is how much work and time we have all put in for the season. It sometimes gets overlooked because it feels like there is a consensus that it comes with the job. What I’m talking about is all the extra hours we all put in to help become the champions we are today. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity and the success that we were able to accomplish as a team.

Joel: It is an honor to be a part of Team 144. We have gotten the opportunity to go through so much, and we have proven our ability to persevere and rise to the top.

Why did you pick CS as your undergrad major?

Joshua: I decided to pick CS because I thought it aligned best with my interests and skills. I grew up as a very analytical person who enjoyed problem solving and challenges. My dad was a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry and I knew I wanted to be an engineer as well. I first heard about computer science and data science from a friend who graduated from Michigan Engineering in 2022 and I was inspired to do some research. Topics such as computer vision and machine learning instantly caught my eye, as well as the ability to apply a computer science degree toward a variety of industries upon graduation. I realized this was a good fit for me.

Tyler: I chose CS because I grew up around it. My father works in CS for Charles Schwab, and growing up I would see the things he was able to do and accomplish while sitting behind a computer. I was fascinated by the power of computing and the ability to accomplish great things with a few strokes of a key. Don’t get me wrong – there was a time in my life when I thought I would become the first Black President… but then Barack Obama beat me to it! So I shifted my goals towards other things I was passionate about.

Joel: In high school I was lucky enough to take a class which exposed me to CS and where I learned to create some mobile apps. I came to the University as a regular student, for the academics – not a football player – expecting to major in CS. I tried out for the team as a walk on and was fortunate to make the cut. This really didn’t change my thoughts about CS – I stuck with it, even though both football and CS require big commitments.

How do you balance football and studies in CS?

Joshua: This has been a challenge but a worthwhile one without a doubt. Committing anywhere between 30 and 50 hours a week toward football meant that I had to be very diligent with my time outside of the sport. First, I always tried to be present, whether I was watching a lecture or completing a project, and I would take it one step and one task at a time. This helped me from feeling overwhelmed. Second, I would frequently seek help and would go to office hours regularly for clarification on concepts and help with homework. Staying ahead of schedule on assignments and getting into a weekly routine were crucial to staying in control of my academics and allowing me to make adjustments and maintain good mental health and an enjoyable social life.

Tyler: Balancing football and CS is one of the harder things I have done in my life. My approach to achieving balance is to maximize my breaks and to have a plan. Like most people, I create a ranking system in my life so I am able to develop priorities and figure out what I have to spend the most time on. Football and CS both take a huge commitment, so it is frustrating at times when you feel swamped, but there is also an awareness that there is time if you make it. One of the best things I learned when deciding my own priorities was what I have the ability to put to the side until later. This focus plays a big role in getting work done.

Joel: Balancing football with school is difficult with this major. However, as a result I have appreciated the opportunity to learn an advanced skill of time management. I would say one thing that I am good at is being able to focus on one thing at a time. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as multitasking, so although I may have a lot on my plate, being able to focus on one thing (taking your mind off of everything else) and then moving from there has been the strategy that has worked for me best.

Did you have a favorite class, project, or instructor in CS?

Joshua: My favorite class was Web Systems (EECS 485), where the projects centered around recreating an Instagram adjacent platform. The class included subjects such as internet security, APIs, and Client Side Dynamic pages to name a few. The projects were really cool, and creating our own Social Media platform was a great experience. It was really inspiring to create a sophisticated client side dynamic website because it gave me confidence that my education had prepared me for real world problems. I envision the content and experiences from that course being critical to what I hope to accomplish as a software developer in the future.

Tyler: My favorite class was Discrete Math (EECS 203) with Professor Kim Diaz. Taking EECS 203 with her as my lecture instructor was a Blessing. Her office hours and communication skills really helped me get through some of the challenging portions of the course. I appreciate everything she did for me in that class, and hopefully she gets the chance to read this article.

Joel: My favorite class so far was Data Structures and Algorithms (EECS 281), and my favorite instructor was Professor Marcus Darden. I also really enjoyed Introduction to Computer Security (EECS 388) and learning about different cyber attacks/defenses.

Do you have a message for the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of CSE?

Joshua: First, I would like to thank the University of Michigan College of Engineering faculty and supporting staff for a tremendous undergraduate experience. Their expertise and support was pivotal to my success as a student and they provided me with an exceptional education. Your hard work and dedication to this community has built a platform for my future endeavors and successes. To the current students, you’re here for a reason, you are the leaders and best. Trust your educators, apply yourself and as a result you will graduate with tremendous opportunities. To the alumni, thank you for establishing a high standard and for paving the way for future CSE graduates. It is reassuring to know we have the best alumni network in the world. Finally, I would like to say that I’m proud to be a CSE and DSE graduate and to represent this great university and program within the college of engineering. Every one of you has played a role in our successful season whether you know it or not and for that I hope you are all proud and enjoyed this championship season. Never be deterred by the doubts of others. Go Blue!

Tyler: Wishing you all the best of luck as we attack this 2024. The future favors those who press on. Even when time gets extremely rough and becomes what may seem impossible, you got this. CSE is rough, I’m currently living through it, but there is nothing in this world to be afraid of. As we’ve proven on the field, every obstacle, every failure, and every success, is just a stepping stone to your greatness.

Joel: I greatly appreciate the recognition by the department that its educational mission is best executed in a student-first fashion. I have seen this put on display a number of times, by the way support is provided for how not everyone learns the same: some learn better in-person, while some learn better from lecture recordings and lab recordings. Additionally, I appreciate the logical thinking that the department thinks with. For example, if the autograder is down for five hours, the deadline will be extended by about five hours; this makes being a student much more enjoyable when you can expect the way that the department will act under certain scenarios.