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NFL players take back-to-school to the extreme

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 21, 2013 at 12:43 pm •  Published: February 21, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — In his decade as an NFL offensive lineman, Derrick Dockery has never had such a challenging schedule.

His three young children — ages 5, 3 and 2 — rouse him out of bed by 7:30 a.m. He and his wife, Emma, get them dressed and take them to school. Then the couple makes the one-hour drive from their Virginia home to George Washington University in the nation's capital, where they spend eight hours trying to absorb a week's worth of material in pursuit of a master's degree from one of the most prestigious business schools in the country.

Some nights there's a three-hour study session tacked on. Otherwise, it's back home to get the kids in bed and then two hours or so of homework.

Sure, there are plenty of stories about NFL players going back to school to finish a degree or start a new one. Few of them go about it quite like this.

"It's pretty intense," said Dockery, a free agent who spent the last two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. "Our time is limited with each other. Our time with our kids is limited. But we feel like it's a sacrifice for a larger reward long-term."

More than 40 current and former players — including Shawne Merriman, Will Witherspoon, Marques Colston, Antwaan Randle El, Samari Rolle and Stephen Bowen — are doing the extreme cram degree, attempting to earn a full MBA from GW by taking a series of two-week courses over two offseasons.

This is no free ride, in every sense of the phrase. The athletes are responsible for the roughly $110,000 for tuition, travel and lodging, and the program — which include non-athletes — has a dropout rate of about 10 percent. Emma Dockery said the financial markets class is taught by a professor known as "Mr. C." in the graduate business school "because his highest grade typically is a C."

"I want to break down those stereotypes," said Dockery, who admits he wasn't exactly the most motivated of students when he was on his athletic scholarship at the University of Texas. "Especially all those negative ones, the bad ones. NFL, athletes in general.

"When I walk into a room, I want to be one of those guys who's engaging and knows what he's talking about. This gives me an opportunity to garner those skills and get that information that I need, so when I do walk in that meeting I'm prepared, I know what I'm talking about. I'm a better student now because I take it more seriously."

In theory, Dockery and his wife should already be set for life. He signed a pair of free agent contracts that guaranteed him more than $26 million in 2007 and 2009, but he's also seen firsthand the teammates who waste their fortunes and have no plans for life after football. He's involved in a political action committee and can give his own analytical argument for solving the country's budget deficit. If he doesn't play another down, he's ready to move on and will have quite the resume to do so after graduation day on May 17.

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