Back to school

ATHENS - During a four-year career in the NFL, Orantes Grant tried several times to finish the coursework for his college degree from long range.

"While I was in the league, I started a couple of those online classes, but I never finished," said Grant, who spent two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and also played for the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns. "I always found it hard when you're 600 miles away from campus, and you've got other things on your plate as well."

So, in January, Orantes Grant came back to Georgia and decided to buckle down. He enrolled in traditional courses, and, in December, he'll receive his degree in child and family development.

"I would like to work with youth who seem to come from similar situations that I had, working class, who put a lot of emphasis on sports to get out of their situation," he said. "Where I could play a big part in it is just educating kids on thinking about longevity instead of instant success."

So, while his former teammates sweat through fall camp on the Bulldogs' practice fields, Grant will be about half a mile north of them finishing something he started nine years ago when he came out of Dunwoody High School as a Class AAAA first-team all-state linebacker.

"I hope people can see what I'm doing and be motivated to come back," he said.

Grant estimates that more than 25 percent of athletes who leave school short of their degree come back at some point and at least attempt to complete their requirements.

Former Georgia defensive back Earl Chambers returned to Athens after a short break and earned his master's degree while serving as a graduate assistant for the football team the last three seasons. This year, he accepted a job as a full-time assistant at Valdosta State.

There are plenty of other success stories, too.

Defensive lineman Emarlos Leroy came back to finish his undergraduate degree after a three-year NFL career. After graduating, he returned to Jacksonville, where he spent his first two NFL seasons, and took a job in parks and recreation.

NFL Pro Bowler Champ Bailey has been back in Athens off and on working toward his degree. Former tight end Larry Brown came back, too. This week, Bruce Adrine came to campus to ask what he needed to get back into school, said Robert Miles, Georgia's assistant athletic director for Life Skills.

At Georgia Tech, Nick Ferguson of the Denver Broncos gave up $50,000 in workout bonuses to be in school this summer. Ten years after he left the Yellow Jackets, he received his management degree in May. Atlanta Falcons receiver Dez White and former Tech linebacker Ron Rogers of Dublin also were in school this summer.

Both the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets provide resources for players who want to return after a break.

"We stay in close contact to make sure we can do everything we can to help them finish," Miles said. "You see them and say, ‘Look man, you've got so much done, come on back."

Miles also tries to keep Georgia football coach Mark Richt up-to-date on which players are good targets for arm twisting.

"I love it when guys come back," Richt said.

The toughest things for many players who have had a taste of a pro career is to give up on that part of their lives and move from a location where they have become settled back to their college town, Grant said.

It's a transition, though, that he finally decided was the best for him.

"I've turned my (retirement) papers in," he said. "I've closed that chapter, and I'm trying to write another one."

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