Albert Bimper was 18 years old when he walked onto the main campus at Colorado State. To say it was a culture shock for the young, African-American boy who spent his entire life in Arlington, Texas, would be an understatement.
He was in a town he didn’t know, away from his family for the first time, attending classes and playing Division I football. He didn’t look like the majority of his classmates, afro and all, and he immediately felt homesick, missing the comfort of his hometown. That was nearly 15 years ago.
At Arlington Bowie High School, Bimper was a standout on the football field, on the track and in the classroom. He compiled a 3.9 grade-point average and was a member of the National Honor Society while earning honors as a three-year letterman in football and a two-time letterman in track and field. Bimper was twice chosen team captain in football and earned all-city and all-state honors as a junior and senior, as well as team offensive MVP and best lineman.
As his high school career was coming to a close, Bimper worried about what was next. “I just didn’t know what to do after high school,” Bimper said in 2013 news release at Kansas State. “We weren’t a winning program. I didn’t have any guidance on how to get to college except for playing ball. I wasn’t highly recruited, and no one was sending out tapes for me. I didn’t have that level of advocacy. Interestingly, I was late to the meeting with a Colorado State recruiter because I was putting in an application at UPS.”
Even though he was late for the meeting, Colorado State eventually offered him a full scholarship, and he was on his way out of the state of Texas for the first time in his life.
Moving on out
He excelled in his classes during high school, but Bimper found himself a bit overwhelmed when he entered college, trying to balance a social life, schoolwork and dozens of hours on the practice field and in the film room each week.
“It was just a complete eye-opener,” Bimper said. “Things came pretty easily to me back in high school, including school and sports, so facing the challenges I did in college kind of shocked me at first.”
Bimper found mentors in former University president Albert Yates and faculty member Jeffrey Shears, who took Bimper under his wing.
“He made me realize there were other things I wanted and needed to do,” Bimper said. “He had an open-door policy and was just there for me. He started telling me about graduate school. He told me to get into grad school I had to improve my GPA and be just as committed to my success off the field as I was on the field.”
Bimper joined numerous student organizations, finally beginning to find himself while he became “culturally bilingual.” Unlike many of his Caucasian peers, who fit in with the campus and Fort Collins community, Bimper believed he had to try to fit in while also remembering his roots back in Arlington.
On the field, he excelled though. Bimper was a four-year starter at CSU (2002-05), and helped lead CSU to three bowl games in his career. As a redshirt sophomore in 2002, Bimper started 11 of the team’s 14 games, including the Liberty Bowl vs. TCU, as the Rams went 10-4 and claimed the Mountain West championship. In his career Bimper played in 39 games and started 37, earning honorable mention All-Mountain West recognition in 2004, when he started all 11 games for CSU.
After graduation, Bimper moved to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, to finish his Master’s degree. At the same time, he was training with Purdue University’s coaching staff ahead of the NFL Combine. He assisted the strength and conditioning coaches with their offseason workouts and even found time to “pay it forward” by mentoring a few players on the Purdue football team.
“Looking back, those coaches (at Purdue) offered me a terrific opportunity to train for a possible career in the NFL,” Bimper said. “But I had to take advantage of that and complete my degree.”
Bimper went undrafted in the 2006 NFL Draft, but was signed after training camp by the Indianapolis Colts for the 2006 season. That year, with Bimper serving as a member of the Colts’ practice squad, Indianapolis went on to win the Super Bowl.
However, he faced a new challenge when he was released from the team and went unsigned by anyone else. Like many of his peers, he was jobless, and unsure of what was next.
He contacted both Yates and Shears, and they recommended that he pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Texas. He agreed and went on to complete his Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Cultural Studies in Education. Along with his Bachelor’s degree from Colorado State, Bimper held a Master of Science degree in Sport Psychology from Purdue and his newly-minted doctorate from UT.
After only knowing two jobs his entire life, football and school, Bimper was now tasked with finding a job, and a place that fit his growing young family. After much research, he happened upon Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. In August 2012, he joined the staff as an assistant professor in the department of special education, counseling and student affairs, with a focus in student services in intercollegiate athletics.
“Albert brings a unique blend of personal experience and academic background to this position as he prepares master’s-level professionals to work with college student athletes,” Ken Hughey, the department’s chair, said in a press release at the time.
Around the same time at Colorado State, the athletic department had come under fire for comments made by head football coach Jim McElwain and then-athletic director Jack Graham at a meeting between department staff, administrators and African-American student-athlete alumni on April 19, 2013.
In response to the issues raised by attendees at the meeting, CSU appointed former black student-athletes to the Ram Athlete Alumni Association board, which makes recommendations for Hall of Fame inductions. And on May 31, 2014, the university announced the hiring of Bimper — who was in attendance at that April meeting— to split time between being a professor and an athletics administrator overseeing diversity and inclusion.
Bimper was appointed as a full-time assistant professor in the Ethnic Studies department and was named the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Diversity and Inclusion, a new position within the department.
“I love this place, is there much more to say?” Bimper said. “The opportunity to come back to my alma mater and have the chance to make a difference in the lives of our student-athletes is really special to me. It’s interesting to see things come full circle since I graduated a few years ago. When I was here, I had the opportunity to represent our school as a student-athlete and now I am able return to the university with a similar blend of responsibilities as a professor and athletic administrator.
Today, Bimper interacts with hundreds of CSU’s student-athletes, including a number of African-American student-athletes who have found a mentor in him, the same way he did more than a decade ago with Jeffrey Shears. One of his favorite students, which he will admit, was A.J. Newton, a sociology major and a two-year starter on the CSU women’s basketball team. Newton was a member of CSU’s RAMbition group, an organization through the CSU athletic department that unites female student-athletes and offers monthly meetings to raise awareness and support for women’s sports at the University.
“I love this place, is there much more to say?” Bimper said. “The opportunity to come back to my alma mater and have the chance to make a difference in the lives of our student-athletes is really special to me.
Newton and Bimper have developed a close bond through the African-Americans in Sport course he teaches, with Bimper insisting that Newton at least apply to a graduate school program at the University of Texas, one of his alma maters. She was accepted, and even received a $7,500 post-graduate scholarship this month, which of course, Bimper pushed her to apply for.
“Dr. Bimper has just been a huge part of my development as a person and a student-athlete here at Colorado State,” Newton said. “Before I got to CSU two years ago, I had never even thought about going to grad school, but after taking Dr. Bimper’s African-Americans in Sport course, I was really inspired to pursue a career in which I could help minority athletes in an administrative role.”
Newton said she hopes to follow a similar path to Bimper, possibly teaching courses while working as an administrator at a major Division I university. For now, she just hopes he can give her some good restaurant recommendations as she moves to Austin, Texas, a town he is very familiar with.
“The influence he’s had on my life, and the lives of so many other African-American student-athletes is almost immeasurable,” Newton said. “He is one of my absolute favorite people, and he has been a blessing to this University.”
Athletes regularly visit him in his office at the McGraw Athletic Center, and he has become a fixture in the CSU athletics community. More than anything he’s done, though, Bimper relishes the opportunity to instruct and educate students in his class on the trials and pitfalls African-American athletes have faced during the past 100-plus years. The class has been an eye-opener to many of them, though, helping them to realize the daily struggles the growing African-American demographic in sports faces.
“I like the class a lot, but sometimes it’s tough because it informs me a lot about the sports that I’m playing,” CSU cornerback Preston Hodges said. “It’s a great class, and I love it. I wish they had more of it because it’s just informative about a lot of stuff I didn’t know.”
Bimper still holds a special place in his heart for football players, many of whom he’s in class, but also see him as a mentor and a friend. He often travels to away football games and is on the sideline for nearly every home game.
“I feel like I can talk to Dr. Bimper about anything,” Hodges said. “He shows his face on the football field a lot, and he’s always there to help us in the classroom, too. He’s just someone we can go to get advice on for just about everything.”
Under Bimper’s guidance, CSU has improved its efforts in diversity and inclusion, winning the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association’s Award for Diversity.
According to the NCAA, the award, first presented two years ago, “celebrates colleges or athletics conferences that embrace diversity and inclusion initiatives in ways that may include hiring practices, programming activities, professional development and community service. Initiatives can involve specific departments or offices on campus, or center on a university’s or athletics conference’s efforts as a whole.”
Bimper takes pride in the steps the CSU athletic department has made, but still realizes there is a long way to go in the fields of diversity and inclusion.
“Diversity and inclusion is very real to these students,” Bimper said. “It’s very real to come here and not see many people of color through the administration or through their coaching staffs. I believe the people who are brought to this campus because of their skills, but in certain pockets of the community, they don’t exactly mirror the student body they represent. That doesn’t make it wrong here, it just gives us another challenge. I think it’s an opportunity to get an education at a great institution, compete at a high level and play for great coaches. It will challenge them, likely more than they’ve ever been challenged before in that area, but it prepares them for situations that they don’t know are out there yet.”
The 18-year-old boy who came into a town and situation he didn’t know was out there yet, is now assisting athletes just like he was when he walked onto CSU’s campus as “the only person in the town with an afro,” according to him. Kind of fitting, right?
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.