Urschel graduated from Penn State with a mathematics degree in 3 years. The Williamsport, N.Y., native is a well-respected member of the Lions, but he catches some playful flak from time to time for his smarts - after all, his Twitter handle is @mathmeetsfball.
"Sometimes we joke around," tackle Adam Gress said. "Like it'll be a heavy snow day, and we say, 'Ursch,' why don't you just cancel class? It's your choice.' But it's not really that we mess with him too much. We respect it a lot. It's a great thing that he's doing."
While his students know he's a football player,the 6-3, 300-pound Urschel said he keeps the sport separate from his teaching. He said since he doesn't really talk about football, the students don't talk about it either. One of them, freshman Lulu Alhadlaq, said Urschel "understands" the students and they can tell how smart he is.
Urschel also has had a document, "Instabilities in the Sun-Jupiter-Asteroid Three Body Problem," published, loaded with complex formulas and graphs.
"I think it was his proof or something like that . . . apparently it's a big deal, but I don't really know how those things work," Gress said. "But I know that it was a really big thing and actually I remember I read the first two or three pages of it, and it didn't really click with me, with the math thing. But that was something else."
His smarts aside, Urschel's abilities on the field are no secret after a breakout 2012 season. Earning his first starting role, he quickly emerged as one of the better linemen in the Big Ten, notching first-team honors.
With two starting members of last year's line, Matt Stankiewitch and Mike Farrell, graduating, coach Bill O'Brien has mentioned Urschel as one of the team's rising leaders.
So have his teammates.
"John Urschel is a very sound player," senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones said. "He doesn't really make a lot of errors and on the one-on-ones, you know, a lot of people don't like going against Urschel. I really like going against Urschel because he makes me a better player. Urschel, I would say, is one of the best guys on the line."
With the departure of Stankiewitch, last year's center, O'Brien said everyone on the line is being taught how to snap the ball. Meanwhile, former backups are being looked at to step up.
Urschel also acknowledged his role as a mentor.
"Well, this is my last year playing football for Penn State, so things are obviously a little bit different," Urschel said. "I want to make sure I can do everything I can to make sure our team has a successful year so I'm doing as much as I can personally to take my game to the next level, while at the same time trying to help my teammates, especially the younger guys on the offensive line."
Urschel is the type of player Penn State is glad to have.
"John's a great leader, not only on the field, but off the field," Gress said. "I think he's a prime example of how you can be a good person scholarly, you can be a good person on the field, you can lead by example - you can lead on the field and off the field."