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Is it cool to be a smart kid?

Recent St. Paul Harding graduate Rob Htoo balked at the question because he does not identify as a brainiac.

"I wouldn't say I'm smart, more just hardworking," Htoo said. "You can be smart but not a hard worker."

Htoo, the 2023 All-Metro Sports Awards Student First winner, was both. He ranked fifth in his class of about 400 students, with a grade-point average of 4.68 (weighted) and 3.97 (unweighted) while taking classes in the school's International Baccalaureate (IB) program. He achieved academically while juggling a full sports slate of football, basketball and track and field.

"You show your grades to Mom and Dad and you get a pat on the back," Htoo said. "It's a good feeling."

Finishing strong, Htoo graduated magna cum laude after taking two full years of classes in the IB program, a relentless pace of tougher classes. A weighted GPA takes academic rigor into account, which explains why he soared past the 4.0 mark. Senior slide? Not Htoo.

"Senior year was especially tough because we had a lot of essays to write," Htoo said. "We did a historical investigation around November or December that took a lot of time. And then we also had to do an extended essay, which was about a 4,000-word paper — on top of the classes."

History and English were Htoo's best classes. His personal history is a pretty good story, too.

Htoo, who is Karen, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and moved to the United States at age 6. Neither of his parents received a high school or college education. One of his older brothers earned an associate degree, the other a bachelor's degree.

Rob Htoo warmed up with his football teammates.
Rob Htoo warmed up with his football teammates.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

"The generation right above us didn't get the opportunity to get an education," Htoo said. "Our generation has more opportunities to go to college."

Htoo chose St. Olaf College in Northfield over other schools that accepted him, such as St. John's, Minnesota and Macalester. He also attended an invite-only football camp at Harvard. He spoke with additional Ivy League football coaches but said he got involved in the process after many teams' rosters were full.

He will play running back for the Oles this fall, challenging himself all over again as a student-athlete.

"Academically, it's a very difficult school," said Htoo, who will apply the successful formula that served him well in high school.

"I would say balance is a key and prioritizing the things that need to be prioritized," Htoo said. "It's important to keep your schoolwork done on time. I like to do my work a couple days ahead when I have time, so I don't have to worry about it."

Sports occupied much of Htoo's time and energy, especially football. He spent the past two years helping set the foundation for the St. Paul Harding/Humboldt cooperative football program. The Knighthawks improved from 4-5 in 2021 to 7-1 last fall.

Htoo, a 5-11, 190-pound running back, led the team with 705 yards rushing and scored nine touchdowns.

"I'm definitely proud," said Htoo, who lives just blocks from Harding High School. "My teammates and I went 0-9 as freshmen. But we came together and said we were going to turn this program around."

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Special celebration

The Star Tribune's sixth annual All-Metro Sports Awards show will be held June 28, and this year's event will be at Target Center. The winners of 10 special AMSA honors will be introduced, capping an evening of celebrating outstanding student-athletes and those who support them. The public is welcome to join the celebration, and tickets for the event are available at

More All-Metro Sports Awards coverage can be found at