Wise Owl: FAU walk-on preparing for medical school

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

BOCA RATON Robert St. Clair Sr. fled Haiti nearly 30 years ago, settled in Belle Glade and worked in construction before running his own landscaping business in West Palm Beach.

He never had the opportunity to graduate from high school, but next month he will watch his son, Florida Atlantic University defensive end Robert Jr., receive a degree in biology.

"I didn't have that much of an education," said Robert Sr., 50. "I didn't have a chance over there. I am very proud of him."

Robert Jr., who plans to attend medical school, is a success story in many ways.

He was a walk-on five years ago at FAU and became an integral part of the defensive line his freshman year. He earned a scholarship less than 11/2 years after enrolling.

He has 97 career tackles despite missing four games this season after undergoing two knee surgeries. He ranks No. 7 on the Owls' all-time list of tackles for loss with 18.

"He's been able to juggle the football and the academic end of it very well," coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "He's a great example of an athlete managing the three time elements: academics, football and social."

St. Clair (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) played football and basketball and ran track at Forest Hill High School. He was voted male athlete of the year as a senior but didn't get any scholarship offers after skipping football as a junior.

Walking on at FAU was his best option, and he quickly made his presence felt. His only setback came this past summer, when he twice tore the meniscus ligament in his left knee.

St. Clair missed the first three games of the season, played in the next four and then sat out the Owls' last game, Oct. 25 at Louisiana-Monroe.

He is not expected to play in Saturday's 4 p.m. homecoming game against North Texas (1-8, 0-4 in the Sun Belt Conference) but hopes to return for the final three games of his career.

"We've missed him a great deal," Schnellenberger said of the Owls (3-5, 1-2). "He was our most experienced and best athlete at the end position."

St. Clair, 23, has a 3.3 GPA and hopes to work in a hospital or doctor's office before attending graduate school next fall. He plans to start medical school in 2010 and eventually become a doctor or veterinarian.

"I'm keeping it open," he said.

Science always fascinated St. Clair in high school. And his interest in animals started at a young age.

"I remember sitting up at night after I'd do my work and watch the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet with my father," he said. "I learned a lot of cool things with all the exotic wild animals."

St. Clair, known as "Doc" to his teammates, volunteered at the Palm Beach Zoo the past three summers. His chores included preparing meals for the animals and helping to relocate them.

His favorite animal is the chimpanzee. At the zoo he became enamored with the white alligator, but "I didn't want to get too close. It was aggressive."

St. Clair also has worked at Banfield, The Pet Hospital in Boynton Beach.

Handling his off-the-field endeavors and academic schedule along with the demands of Division I-A football hasn't been easy.

"You have to be focused and have your priorities in order, especially during the season," St. Clair said. "You can't procrastinate. You have to sacrifice a lot of hanging out with friends."

Schnellenberger, in his 24th season as a college head coach, said he has never had a player who was preparing for med school.

"It's such a time-consuming, in-depth and competitive thing to graduate from college and then qualify to be accepted into medical school," Schnellenberger said. "To come in as a walk-on and win a place on the team and a scholarship early in his career makes it doubly unusual."