Jamaal Steamer has had a nice college football career running after opposing quarterbacks.

But it was his short walk across a stage in Wisdom Gym Saturday that will stand out most from Steamer’s time at Tarleton State.

Steamer graduated Saturday, earning his bachelor’s degree in business management.

Just four years ago, however, he was ruled academically ineligible for the 2006 season, and graduating was something he thought would never happen.

“When I found out I wasn’t eligible I was crushed because I wanted to play so bad,” Steamer said. “I didn’t think I would ever play again or graduate.”

But Steamer pulled himself together and re-committed himself to the classroom.

Finally eligible, the six-foot, two-inch, 252-pound defensive end from Temple was dominant the next two seasons, earning first-team all-conference honors in 2007 and second-team honors in 2008. He had a more pedestrian season last fall, largely because he spent most of the year fighting off nagging injuries while picking up honorable-mention recognition.

For his career, Steamer has 124 tackles including 40 behind the line and 15 sacks. The Texans are 27-8 with him on board, including last season’s 10-3 run to the second round of the Division II playoffs when they captured a share of both the Lone Star Conference and LSC South championships.

But as much as Steamer has accomplished on the field, his biggest achievement has come off it, a feat celebrated at Saturday’s 2010 summer graduation.

“I’m proud to finish my degree,” said Steamer, who became the second man from his family to graduate after his brother earned an agriculture degree from Texas A&M. “I can’t say thank you enough to all the people who helped me - my parents, teachers, coaches and friends - I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it weren’t for them.”

Steamer also would not be where he is now if it weren’t for football.

“Football gave me a chance to get an education,” Steamer said. “Once I learned that, I got myself straightened out.”

As a result, Steamer has been granted another season by the NCAA, making up for the one he lost.

As a sixth-year senior, Steamer is automatically an on-the-field-leader for the Texans. Now, he’s also seen as a mentor off the field.

“Some of the freshmen have already been asking me about classes and if they would be hard,” he said. “I tell them you only make it hard on yourself. Go to class and do the work and ask for help anytime you need it and you’ll be fine. Look at me - I made it.”

Indeed he did. And now, opposing quarterbacks will again have to worry about where Steamer is coming from before every snap this fall.

“I have my degree and I get to play another year of football,” Steamer said. “It really is a dream come true.”