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ASU student-athlete finishes degree after decades out of school

Ted Friedli’s journey to graduation at ASU is 37 years in the making


Ted Friedli smiling with mountains in the background

Photo courtesy Ted Friedli

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November 20, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

Ted Friedli’s college career began in fall 1986. Having grown up in a sports-loving family in Tucson, Arizona, with his dad the head coach at a local high school, Friedli earned a full-ride football scholarship to Arizona State University.

He had an exciting three years as a Sun Devil student-athlete, but his path to graduation was put on hold in 1990 when he suffered significant injuries and slipping grades. Ultimately, he had to take a step back from school. 

Decades passed, but Friedli’s dream to complete a college degree still remained. In 2019, Friedli learned about the “Sun Devils for Life” scholarship program, which gives previous student-athletes a second chance at college. He was eligible, so he applied for readmission and was accepted in spring 2020.

This time around, without the demands of being a student-athlete to contend with, he earned higher grades and was able to raise his cumulative GPA. He still had more than his share of physical challenges, though, battling chronic pain from a stroke in 2017, 19 injury-related surgeries and a rotator cuff tear just this October.

But through patience and perseverance, Friedli reached his goal: This fall, he is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology at ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

After his journey of grit and tenacity, we asked Friedli about his successful path to graduation, his advice to students and his future plans.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I have always been fascinated with people and why they are who they are. What type of environment did they grow up in, what were some of their most pivotal experiences and so forth. I have always enjoyed watching people in crowds. I started working as a bouncer at 17 and I enjoyed watching the crowd and reading people. I actually had the nickname "Roadhouse" because I was a "cooler," which just means I always tried to prevent fights.

Sociology also was the quickest path to graduation. I had 117 credit hours from my previous time as a student-athlete, and I wanted to be able to use as much of those credits to build upon. When I met with my amazing academic advisor, Lisa Barth, we discussed all of my options and I decided that a degree in sociology would be the shortest path and it would give me a solid foundation for pursuing a career in counseling. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I was about 5 years old, Frank Kush visited our home in Morenci, Arizona, where my father was the head football coach, and head baseball coach. Frank Kush and my father sat in our living room talking football and watching game film. From that moment on I knew I was going to be a Sun Devil.

And then years later, Mark Zimmer, who works in the athletic department, mentioned the "Sun Devils for Life" program, of which I knew nothing about at that time, on a post on Facebook. So I sent Mark a message asking about it and the rest is history. I am incredibly spiritual and believe that everything happens for a reason. Or at least that is how I choose to perceive it.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Because there is a 30 year gap between my last semester as a student in 1990, and returning to school in 2020, the main thing I have learned as a student is to trust myself and to be OK with how I learn. I have struggled with severe ADHD for most of my life but it wasn't until recently did I understand what that means. I learn differently than most people and now I embrace that difference. I have a lot less anxiety about learning.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My old spots don't exist anymore! In the 1980s, the basement of the MU was the spot for people to congregate and watch daytime TV talk shows like "Donahue.” Which only makes me feel like a dinosaur.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Find your own way of learning. We all learn differently and you have to find what works for you. Don't stop until you do.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to do some traveling. Mexico first, then Hawaii. When I get back I will figure out what I want to do when I grow up. 

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