Jacksonville Jaguars safety Jamaal Fudge was nervous at first about calling head coach Jack Del Rio. He had to ask for the coach's OK to miss the first two weeks of organized team activities.
It would be the first work on the field under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and Fudge also had a new position coach in Donnie Henderson. When Fudge explained to Del Rio the reason for his request, the coach felt it was a no-brainer.
Fudge is taking a finance class at Clemson University to complete his bachelor's degree in sports management. Instead of being away for an entire semester, Fudge wanted to take an intense summer school class that meets six days a week for two and a half weeks.
"It's something he asked in advance if he could do and I said, 'absolutely," Del Rio explained on Monday. "We're proud of him for going back and finishing up, and he'll be back to join us shortly."
Fudge will only need to complete an internship next spring to complete the requirements for his degree.
"I only had two classes, one of them an internship, so there was no reason to wait and put it off," Fudge said. "When Coach Del Rio gave me the okay, I talked to Coach Henderson and we were able to work it out."
Fudge, who is entering his third season with the Jaguars, was only two classes shy of his degree when he left Clemson to join the NFL in 2006. He had thoughts of finishing after his rookie season, but wanted to keep his focus on earning a roster spot with the Jaguars.
Graduation is something he has discussed with his parents and a goal he has had since he left Ed White High School in Jacksonville.
"The NFL being the way it is, a here today, gone tomorrow type of thing, you never know what can happen," Fudge said. "You need to have something to fall back on."
During his first two seasons in Jacksonville, Fudge spent a lot of his free time at his former high school, mentoring student-athletes. Coaching could be an option he pursues when his NFL career is over.
"I have a new appreciation of how you can help younger people to develop into college students or whatever they want to do," Fudge said. "Just keep them going down the right path and not starting out life the wrong way. I let them know how I went from high school to college to the NFL. Hopefully, they can carry that with them throughout their lives and provide an inspiration to them.
"Coach (Terry) Gilliam has done a wonderful job with the kids. They are very disciplined. When I was there we had a mixture of students, some trouble students and some good students. He's built a great program."
The Jaguars have several players on their roster who have grown up in nearby cities, but Fudge and cornerback Rashean Mathis are the only Jacksonville natives. It's not a position Fudge takes for granted.
"Everywhere you go someone recognizes you for being a local talent and being from Jacksonville," Fudge said. "They have a different appreciation for you. There is love wherever you go."
Even though he spends his nights taking classes, football is still a priority during the day. He works out with some of his former teammates and current Clemson players so he can be ready for the Jaguars minicamp on June 6 and 7.
"It's tough because you are falling behind right now but school is very important," Fudge said. "I'm excited about the season because we were close last year. We have higher expectations for this year."