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Gridiron to Grad School

November 15, 2023 Erica Hulse
Stephen Herron

UofL Football Star Tackles Online MBA with Style

Returning to his Louisville roots after earning his undergraduate degree at Stanford University, University of Louisville football defensive lineman and Online MBA (OMBA) student Stephen Herron took an unexpected yet thrilling path toward earning his graduate business degree in the city he calls home. Balancing his passions for football and leadership, Herron seamlessly navigates the demanding terrain of the OMBA program at UofL, proving that he can excel on and off the field. The flexibility of this distinctive MBA program has become his playbook for success, allowing him to tackle a rigorous athletics schedule while pursuing academic excellence. As the son of a UofL College of Business alum, Herron is not just following in his father’s footsteps; he’s sprinting toward a future where football stardom and business acumen converge in the pursuit of greatness.


“After graduating from Stanford back in December, I figured that coming back home to indulge in this program would be a great opportunity. My dad graduated from the program…in the entrepreneurship side of the [MBA program],” he shared. However, unlike his father’s pursuit of the Innovation MBA (IMBA), Herron required programmatic flexibility, technology, and innovation to best balance the dual roles he fulfills as part of UofL’s football program and as a graduate student. His needs were met through the OMBA program, which allows you to be “flexible with your life. You don’t have to change your life a lot. There’s people in my Eta cohort who have full-time jobs, two jobs even, and being able to complete all this at the same time is great.”

OMBA Program Director Zac Goldman, PhD, echoes Herron’s point, sharing that the intention and commitment UofL and the College of Business have put toward building engaging online graduate learning opportunities can provide students like Herron the chance to advance their education while maintaining busy personal and professional lives. “We are committed to using technology and online learning to maximize flexibility for all of our students. Flexibility is important for everyone, but programs like our Online MBA have intentionally prioritized it without compromising the rigor and value of our programs and the quality of our alumni. As a graduate student, football player, and active member of the community, our OMBA is a perfect fit for students like Stephen. Like so many MBA students, Stephen’s schedule varies from week to week, but through the design and delivery of our Online MBA program, he and others can still successfully pursue their degrees without sacrificing other important aspects of their lives. We are incredibly proud of Stephen, our student-athletes, and all of our working and professional students who are able to balance the busyness of their lives with their ongoing commitment to learning and growth.”

Stephen Herron, Jr. with Stephen Herron, Sr.

New Season

The entrepreneurial success of his father, spawned from his IMBA experience, left a lasting impression on Herron and served as a motivator for him to pursue the challenging journey of balancing a rigorous athletic schedule alongside a demanding graduate program. “He and the people in his cohort…they took what was their final project and ended up making a company out of that. That company was a liqueur company, and they ended up being voted the world’s best-tasting liquor back in 2012. I thought that was such a cool experience: to be able to actually take something you learned in school and be able to apply it for life and [make] money.”

Herron’s story is a familiar one for his father, Stephen Herron, Sr., who graduated from UofL’s College of Business with an Innovation MBA (IMBA) in 2007. Sharing gratitude for the unexpected opportunity to spend more time with his son and see him follow a path parallel to his own, he explained “I’m glad to see him at UofL, albeit that’s a surprise, but it was very good to see him come back home for a little bit to [be] closer with his family and friends.”

Owner and publisher of Prospect Living magazine, Herron, Sr. attributes his business acumen to the knowledge and opportunities gained through his IMBA program in the College. “I’ve been on my own now since September 2008. I weathered many storms over the years and have learned through the challenges and had a few successes along the way. I think the best thing that I can say is going through [the] IMBA empowered me [with] the know-how to figure it out. That program, while working and being a present father, was extremely difficult. [However,] through that experience I developed grit, determination, perseverance, and the sheer will to win, but win with integrity.”

Great Coaching

Impacting him on many levels, Herron notes the impression left on him by faculty who have been committed to helping him achieve academic success. “Dr. Nat Irvin. I had him for a lot of those optional classes early in the program and having him for probably like four or five of those classes has been so cool. Learning from him on a day-to-day basis was [great] because I felt like it took me back to some of my undergrad experiences, having these in-person talks and being able to just bounce ideas off one another.” Through his experiences in Irvin’s courses, Herron shared some profound takeaways that are influencing and shaping his own leadership strategies. “You’re not always going to get that exact job you want or with the exact specifications, so you’re going to have to do different things from time to time outside of your comfort zone,” he explained. “I think [Dr. Irvin] did a great job of leading us up to that and getting us prepared for that in the professional world.”

Community Impact

Focused on achieving professional success in his own way in the future, Herron notes that “I want to feel like I’m moving in the right direction. I want to set myself up [by] being able to have this professional degree…and having a good understanding, a good base for the professional world.” However, the future of leadership is now for Herron. Recognizing the opportunity in UofL’s football program to give back by providing guidance and support to younger athletes – a responsibility which to him is of great importance – he shared that “Being an older guy in this locker room has been really cool. You’ve got to learn a lot about a person – how hard they work, where their head is at, where they want to be. Being able to come back home [to Louisville] and have this impact on this team has been incredible.”

Stephen with volunteers from SJ’s Kids

Herron’s desire to give back and help youth is nothing new. While a student at Trinity High School, he launched his non-profit organization, SJ’s Kids. Geared toward underprivileged children in the Kentuckiana area, his original goal was to “provide lightly used or new clothing to children in the winter months and usually try and provide a kids camp sometime in the spring/summer.” Noting that he has previously worked on projects with organizations like Open Door Youth Foundation and Home of the Innocents, he is currently focused on trying to aid youth in need due to the approaching holiday season. “In the past, we’ve done a ‘Hoodies for the Homeless’ campaign during November,” he shared. “I’m still trying to get that kind of up in the works and get that situated for this year – and then our Christmas campaign was always called ‘Be the Good’.” For Herron, the goal is for children to feel special during a special time of year. “I always try to make sure that the kids that I am giving back to have a memorable holiday.”

Recognizing his son’s varied talents and degree of commitment, be it athletics, academics, or philanthropic endeavors, Herron, Sr. hopes his son continues to “work to leave this world a better place.” Reflecting on what he has already achieved, he shared that he believes his son is “destined to be great at whatever he chooses to do in life. I expect him to be in a position to control his own destiny, whether that’s being a very successful businessperson, an accomplished practicing attorney, sports agent, Power 5 Coach, or Fortune 500 CEO.”

Relaxing Rebuild

Along with a passion for football, business, and helping youth, Herron is equally passionate about vehicles – more specifically, working on restoring cars and trucks. An ongoing project that is a fun outlet for him to relax and build something important, Herron shared that of the three vehicles he has restored, his favorite is a Ford F-350 he named Bonnie. “Whenever they told us we had a stay-at-home advisory during COVID, I think it started on like Sunday, I drove down to Murfreesboro, Tennessee and picked this truck up. It had red rust. It had so many problems. I took it out to Cali. It was a [great] ride with the car. Being able to experience that, [I] kind of just fell in love with the car – it became a relationship.”

Are you considering earning your MBA, but need the flexibility of an online program? Learn more here.

About the UofL College of Business:

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