Jaguars defensive back Don Carey sits in chemistry class each day this offseason on the campus of Norfolk State, completing the final six credits for his degree in building construction technology.
There is no other place he would rather be, especially if he wants to stay in good standing with his mother, Karen Robinson.
Robinson once took Carey off the football team at Booker T. Washington High School for almost two weeks because he earned a "C" in English. It's important to note Carey graduated with honors and posted the second-highest grade point average on the football team.
"School comes first in my family," Carey said. "She's great at English so she couldn't understand it. I had to bring my grade back up before I could return so I talked to the teacher and she let me redo some work."
Carey, who works out each afternoon with the Norfolk State football team, will make his family proud when he receives his degree on May 8. He could very easily be graduating from Yale, Colgate, Michigan or several other schools but he opted for the only school that offered him a full scholarship. He received financial aid to several Ivy League schools but the financial burden would have been too much.
Carey excelled on and off the football field at Norfolk State. He was a three-time honoree on the MEAC's Commissioner's All-Academic Team and was selected as the recipient of the team's Army Strong Award, given to the player who best exemplifies community service and achievement on the field and in the classroom.
Carey is not a familiar name for followers of the Jaguars, but that could change in 2010. He was a sixth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in last year's draft but suffered a shoulder injury early in training camp.
The Browns decided to waive him on August 6 and the Jaguars claimed him off waivers knowing he wouldn't be available until 2010. Jaguars general manager Gene Smith didn't hesitate to add another draft pick to an already deep class.
Carey used the time wisely to get acclimated to the business of the NFL. He spent several days each week rehabbing and strengthening his shoulder with the Jaguars trainers.
"I'm back where I need to be," Carey said.
The Jaguars have shown no bias against players from small schools. The Jaguars finished the season with 14 players on their roster who arrived in the NFL from a Division I-A school. The best example of the personnel staff finding a hidden gem came with third-round pick and former William & Mary standout Derek Cox. Cox started all 16 games as a rookie and led the team with four interceptions.
Carey saw some familiar faces when he joined the Jaguars including cornerback Rashean Mathis, who played in the same conference as Norfolk State. In fact, Carey's head coach at Norfolk State, Pete Adrian, was previously Mathis' defensive coordinator at Bethune-Cookman.
Sitting out an entire season has Carey itching to get back in the fold. He was a four-year starter at Norfolk State and had eight interceptions his final two seasons. He caught the eyes of the NFL scouts at the East-West Shrine game in Houston, and his 4.48 in the 40-yard dash at the combine didn't hurt matters.
So what can be expected?
"Real energetic, like to fly around and get to the ball," Carey said. "I'm willing to do what I am told to do."
Carey is realistic about his expectations for the upcoming season. Mathis and Cox are locked in as the starters but there will be several players competing for the starting nickel spot. Plus, Carey saw action at safety along with cornerback as a senior.
"I'm going to compete," Carey said. "My best bet to get on the field now is to play nickel and of course special teams. I'm just going to get there for the OTA's, work hard, do what I'm told to do and not be worried about where I'm going to play."
Of course, first things first; he will rejoin his teammates on May 9 following his graduation. Being around the Jaguars locker room for a year has made him anxious to return.
"We have a lot of great guys and it's easy to get along with great character guys," Carey said. "I'm a great character guy myself. That is big to me, the character of someone."
Fans can follow Don Carey on twitter at @doncarey.