This afternoon, cornerback Casey Gerald ’09 will be preparing for one of the biggest moments of his life — and it has nothing to do with this weekend’s game at Harvard.

In fact, Gerald won’t be anywhere near Cambridge, Mass., for he, along with 12 other finalists from Texas and Louisiana, will be in Houston, Texas, taking part in a final round of interviews for the Rhodes Scholarship. Two of the finalists will be among the 32 American Rhodes Scholars to be named this year.

Then Gerald will hop on a plane to get to the last football game of his Yale career. And in what could be a day of extreme elation or disappointment, not only will the winner of The Game by decided on Saturday, but so too will the two Rhodes Scholars from Gerald’s group.

And while he expects to make it to Harvard on time for The Game, Gerald acknowledged that there is always the possibility that unforeseen circumstances may prevent him from getting a flight in time. “If I have to miss the game,” he said in an interview, “it would be the toughest decision of my life.”

Facing both the most important interview of his life and the most important football game of the season in the span of 24 hours, Gerald nonetheless said he feels he is ready for the pressure and the nerves that will surely be present.

“One of the things that has gotten me through Yale has been my ability to compartmentalize,” he said. “I’ll hopefully have that skill in overdrive come Friday and Saturday.”

Gerald’s journey from New Haven to Houston, and then to Boston, may be a long one, but it is nothing compared to the journey he has been on since arriving at Yale.

Having grown up in an inner-city Dallas neighborhood rife with trouble, Gerald arrived at Yale aiming to merely make it through the year.

“I was just trying to swim [and not sink],” Gerald said. “I was first trying to figure out where I belonged in this big abyss of confusion.”

Initially struggling with the drastically new environment of Yale, Gerald said he learned to embrace these new experiences when he got to know his classmates better and realized how similar everyone’s challenges really were. Gerald sees the Rhodes Scholarship as a way to continue to widen this outlook of humanity’s similarities.

“It would be an opportunity to go from being a product of urban America to being a citizen of the world,” Gerald said.

Although being named a Rhodes Scholar is one of the most prestigious academic honors in the world — past recipients include Bill Clinton LAW ’73, General Wesley Clark and journalist George Stephanopoulos — Gerald said he would treat the award as a window into the surrounding world and not as just another trophy to show off. If Gerald is awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, he would spend the next two years pursuing a master’s degree in philosophy and development studies at Oxford University.

For someone who has never been across the Atlantic, Gerald hopes to gain a more worldly perspective of the problems that people face around the world.

“You can’t be an effective leader if you don’t know what else is out there,” Gerald said. “I definitely need to be exposed to things that up until this point I’ve only been able to imagine.”

Using the experience he wishes to gain abroad, Gerald wants to use the scholarship to look at the different methods being used to solve problems in developing countries and then applying them.

“[I want to] bring those issues, stories, and approaches and look at how they relate to development problems in urban America and the development that we really need to do.”

Despite the fact that his teammates sometimes tease him about his intelligence, they value his presence as a leader in the locker room.

“Casey is a very vocal leader of our defense and has been called upon by [captain Bobby Abare ’09] to speak to the team on many occasions,” head football coach Jack Siedlecki said.

Siedlecki said Gerald’s accomplishments also help to strengthen the Yale football program as a whole.

“[It] just reinforces the idea that Yale and Ivy League football truly support the notion that each individual can excel at whatever they pursue here,” Siedlecki said.

At the same time, however, Gerald finds that sometimes he is not held in such high regard in the classroom because he is an athlete.

“When you walk into a classroom with a ‘Yale Football’ hoodie on, you’re not expected to know anything about what’s actually going on,” he said. “But I’ve been able to prove people wrong every now and then.”

Though recent recognitions have cast the spotlight on him, Gerald has not turned any of his focus away from this week’s game. After Yale’s embarrassment in last year’s game, Gerald feels that the team is well prepared to avenge last season’s loss.

And even if he is somehow not able to make it back to Harvard in time, Gerald said he has confidence in whoever would replace him on the field.

“Guys have been going down all season and somebody else always steps up,” Gerald said. “I don’t doubt whatsoever that if I am not able to play Saturday, that someone else will step in my spot and do a phenomenal job.”

Gerald’s presence may actually be more necessary than ever, though. Gerald’s absence and a knee injury to cornerback Paul Rice ’10 could leave the team without its two starting cornerbacks. Siedlecki said that Rice’s status in the lineup will be a “game time decision.”

No matter what happens in Houston and in Cambridge, though, Gerald knows that he will eventually matriculate at the Harvard Business School either three years from now or next year, though he insists he will remain a Bulldog for life.

If all goes well, he will be in Cambridge tomorrow, too.