Unusual equation: Ravens’ John Urschel is a math whiz, publishes high-level research paper

Posted at 6:54 AM, Mar 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-23 09:32:31-04

(CNN) — As an offensive guard for the Baltimore Ravens, John Urschel already has a lot on his plate.

He regularly goes head to head with the top defensive players in the NFL and does his best to keep quarterback Joe Flacco out of harm’s way.

But besides his endeavors on the field, Urschel also keeps up another demanding pursuit that is rarely associated with NFL players: mathematical research.

Not content with the respect of the locker room, he also seeks the esteem of top mathematicians around the globe.

“I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in mathematics, all with a 4.0, and numerous published papers in major mathematical journals,” Urschel wrote in a recent article for The Players’ Tribune.

‘A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm’

His latest contribution to the mathematical realm was a paper for the Journal of Computational Mathematics with the impressively esoteric title, “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians.”

Urschel, 23, makes no effort to hide his unusual combination of talents: his official Twitter handle is @MathMeetsFball.

As word of his double life spread on social media in recent days, users responded with fascination and admiration.

“You are my goddamn hero (football fan and aspiring complex/functional analyst here),” tweeted Roy Cardenas, who describes himself as a math Ph.D. student.

‘I love hitting people’

But Urschel acknowledges that he has faced questions from NFL officials, journalists, fans and fellow mathematicians about why he runs the risk of potential brain injury from playing football when he has “a bright career ahead of me in mathematics.”

After every season, he says in the Players’ Tribune article, his mother tries to discourage him from continuing to play football.

The Penn State graduate says the reason he keeps going isn’t for the money (he drives a used Nissan Versa and lives on less than $25,000 a year) or “for some social status associated with being an elite athlete.”

It’s simpler than that.

“I play because I love the game. I love hitting people,” he writes. “There’s a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you.”

“This is a feeling I’m (for lack of a better word) addicted to, and I’m hard-pressed to find anywhere else,” he explains.

Also very good at chess

He shared his thoughts after San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland announced last week that he was retiring from professional football at age 24 because he was worried about the long-term effects of head trauma.

Urschel says he envies Borland but doesn’t feel able to quit.

“When I go too long without physical contact I’m not a pleasant person to be around,” he writes. “This is why, every offseason, I train in kickboxing and wrestling in addition to my lifting, running and position-specific drill work.”

And as if two areas of overachievement weren’t enough, there is one other thing at which Urschel excels.

“I’m also an avid chess player,” he says. “And I have aspirations of eventually being a titled player one day.”