Pontiff makes right call off field By Carl Dubois Advocate sportswriter Remember taking that last final exam of a semester, how you couldn't wait to rush out of the classroom and go blow off steam somewhere? If it was a spring semester, maybe you headed for the beach. Consider the case of Wallace Victor Sebastian Pontiff Jr., a junior majoring in biological sciences at Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College. His last exam of the 2002 spring semester -- a comprehensive final in a genetics course -- is scheduled from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday. When the exam is over, the Metairie native will race to the corner of Nicholson Drive and Skip Bertman Drive, change into a baseball uniform and become the student-athlete known as Wally Pontiff, third baseman and captain of the LSU Tigers. It's quite possible his LSU teammates will already be playing Alabama in the second game of a three-game Southeastern Conference series. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m., during the time designated for Pontiff's exam. "I just hope it doesn't take the whole two hours," Pontiff said Thursday after taking his next-to-last final exam of the semester. Finals began Monday and end Saturday. Most players caught a break with their exam schedules and will be finished well before today's first game of the series. Not Pontiff. In fact, the test he took Thursday was originally scheduled to be given from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today, which would have made it impossible for Pontiff to make it to Alex Box Stadium for the 6:30 p.m. series opener. "I was lucky I got to take it a day early," Pontiff said. He spoke with his genetics professor about changing the date of Saturday's final exam, but such a change would have come with a steep price, Pontiff said. "The format of the test would have been altered, and it would have made it more difficult," he said. "That was the only way the professor would agree to it." That's not surprising. An instructor isn't likely to give the same test twice and risk having one student reveal its contents to the rest of the class. So Pontiff was forced to choose between a harder final or perhaps missing part of Saturday's game. He opted to play conservatively, academically speaking. "This is my first chance to have a 4.0 for a semester," said Pontiff, who has an overall GPA of 3.25 at LSU. "I have about a 93 average in the class right now, and I need to do well on the final to keep an A like I have in my other classes. "I wanted to change the time of the exam, but I can't be sure what would happen with the format, and I don't want to take that risk." Like everyone else in an LSU uniform, Pontiff came to Baton Rouge with the goal of moving on to play professional baseball. If that doesn't work out for him, he said, medical school might be his next choice. "I've always been fascinated by medicine," Pontiff said. "Maybe I'll go to med school one day, if I don't get the chance to play on the next level or if my career doesn't last as long as I'd like it to." Pontiff led LSU in batting average for much of the season. He had a career-best hitting streak of 19 straight games, and soon after it ended he started another streak that lasted 12 games. He's been a vocal leader, rallying his teammates during low points and voicing his opinion -- to mixed reviews -- about LSU fans who booed and hurled insults when the Tigers were struggling through their worst loss of the season, a 15-4 defeat at home against Mississippi State. Some fans thought Pontiff was out of line for chastising the fans. Others thought he was on target. Since that game, LSU's players rallied around each other and have won 19 of their last 24 games. Most LSU fans still cheer for Pontiff as loudly as ever. But Pontiff's performance off the field has also earned him notice. He's a recent selection to the Verizon District VI Baseball Academic Team, making him eligible for the Verizon Academic All-America Team. "My parents brought me up to be education-oriented," Pontiff said. "My mom and dad were never satisfied if I didn't do as well in grade school as I could have, and Jesuit High School prepared me well for LSU." So today Pontiff, as team captain, will give a pregame talk to his teammates and try to help them defeat Alabama. Then he'll go home and study for Saturday's final exam in genetics, brushing up on his knowledge of DNA and all of its codified yet mysterious complexity. If he's not back at Alex Box in time for the first pitch Saturday, Clay Harris will probably start in Pontiff's place at third base. Perhaps some fans will second-guess Pontiff's decision, wishing he'd opted to take the harder version of the exam earlier in the week. But with LSU under the microscope for alleged academic improprieties involving student-athletes, Pontiff's example is no doubt a welcome one in the athletic department. Who knows? Maybe the fans will let him know how they feel about it when he first steps onto the field Saturday.