Rutgers football has had a strong academic tradition, reaching as high as the top Academic Progress Rate in the nation under head coach Greg Schiano in 2010. That continued with 46 Academic All-Big Ten selections in 2020, the most for the program since joining the conference.
Aslan Pugh earned the distinction for the third-straight year, achieving the feat as a mechanical engineering major. Now in his sixth year in the program, Pugh joined the Scarlet Knights as a walk-on in the Honors College. Managing football with the rigors of engineering is something he is proud of.
"Balancing was definitely hard at first," Pugh said. "It was just learning how to manage my time. I spent all this time with football and then I come home and it's just straight school. I have to get all my work done. And once I kind of got that down in my sophomore year when I understood it, my grades started to do really well.
"There's still some time to have free time and hangout and do stuff, but definitely a lot less than other people. I had to find my routine. At Rutgers, we spend a lot of time with football, but nothing gives for school."
Being a football player and engineering major has also allowed Pugh to experience two different worlds. Earning his undergraduate degree, Pugh is now working on a master's degree in business and science with a concentration in engineering management.
"I take care of everything I need to with football in the morning and then I go into a completely different mode in class," he said. "Both have certainly prepared me for when I leave."
Pugh has played in 21 games for the Scarlet Knights, seeing time on offense, defense and special teams. He is also versatile knowing several coding languages, including Java, Arduino and MATLAB.
"My favorite class might have been computational analysis and design because I like coding a lot," Pugh said. "Mechatronics was a cool class when we went to the lab because we got to actually build things. My senior design project was fun because we got to design our whole product then actually make the pieces in a 3D printer, put it together, code it ourselves and then present it and show that it works."
A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Pugh is the only member of the 2021 roster from the First State. Delaware has produced RU standouts such as Duron Harmon and Andre Patton, who both went from Rutgers to the NFL, and captains Jamal and Jamil Merrell.
Moving forward, Pugh is looking to finish his Rutgers career strong on and off the field.
"On the field, I just want to help the team however I can," Pugh said. "My master's program is two years, and when I finish, I want something that's still hands on, active, something that I'm moving around, not something that's a straight-up desk job. I'm so used to moving around doing stuff. Plus, I went into engineering because I wanted to have my hands on something, building some type of product, being able to test it, work it out and move it to the next stage."
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Photo: Chris Handler