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Football: Irish tight end Hiben leaves team in favor of architecture

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, February 17, 2006

Joey Hiben knew he had to make a choice – three hours of football practice every day or three hours of studio.

He chose studio.

After much deliberation, the freshman tight end informed coaches on Tuesday that he was leaving the football team to pursue a degree in architecture at the University.

“It came down to architecture [being] more important than football to me,” Hiben told The Observer from his dorm room Thursday.

A University spokesman said Irish head coach Charlie Weis would have no comment on the matter.

Architecture majors at Notre Dame are required to study in Rome during their third year of the five-year program. Hiben said the foreign study requirement was not the deciding factor in his decision to eliminate football in favor of a major in architecture, because he could have made that a redshirt year anyway.

He said instead that the conflict of mandatory studio and football practice in the fall forced him to make a decision. And he chose the major that had always caught his interest.

“It basically boils down to the time constraints of architecture,” Hiben said. “Ever since I was 12 years old, I [have been] very interested in architecture.”

Hiben, a Chaska, Minn., native, said one of the reasons he chose Notre Dame after originally committing to Purdue during recruitment was its architecture program. But as the year progressed, he realized he would have to either find a new major or quit the football team.

“It had been going on for quite a while,” Hiben said. “During the fall I realized that there would be a point in time when I would have to pick architecture or football because at this University, it’s impossible to do both at the same time. I had known that this would have to happen.”

Hiben, who saw little action as a rookie tight end – playing sparingly in seven games – would have been in the mix for playing time at the position next season.

Senior Anthony Fasano decided to forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, leaving junior John Carlson as the probable starter and senior Marcus Freeman as the only other returning scholarship tight end.

Freeman’s status is unclear because he would be a fifth-year senior, and those players coming back for a fifth-year have not been announced. Hiben’s departure opens the door for highly touted signee Konrad Reuland, who was a first-team USA Today All-American out of San Capistrano, Calif.

Hiben said he spoke with director of personnel development Ron Powlus throughout the process, and Powlus told him that if architecture was the best choice for him, he should pursue it. Hiben also said that although Weis was surprised when he informed him of his final decision, he is leaving the team on amiable terms.

“I think [Weis] was surprised – he wanted me to stay,” Hiben said. “[He was] telling me he wanted me to think about it, that hopefully we can work something out. However, the reality is that you do have to choose either architecture or football … It was very pleasant when I left the team, which was a relief. It was my decision, and I think people will respect that.”

Since he is leaving the team, Hiben will no longer attend Notre Dame on a football scholarship. But he said he has been working with the Office of Financial Aid to ensure he can stay at Notre Dame.

“The scholarship will be cut off in a few days,” said Hiben, who said that after talking to Powlus he almost immediately went to Financial Aid to get things squared away. “That’s one of the big things that my family’s been aware of. We were prepared for that to happen.”

Hiben, who was also a track and field standout in high school by setting school records in the hurdles and shot put, said he has not ruled out competing for the Irish track and field team at some point. But he emphasized that if it happened, it would occur in the future. For now, he’s focused on the major that took him away from football.

“The reason for leaving the team is so that I can excel at architecture,” Hiben said. “So I have to make sure I adapt to life without football, that school is going great for me and after that I will definitely talk to the track coach. I’m not sure if that will be this spring or next year or when I return from Rome, but that’s definitely in my future.

“I’m in the best shape of my life – how can I stop competing all together? So that’s something to look forward to.”