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What my degree means to me: These New York Giants finished what they started

By Kristen Leigh Porter

David Baas felt a little embarrassed.

The NFL player was talking to kids about staying in school and getting an education but hadn’t earned his degree at Michigan, where he was the Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year before being drafted in 2005.

Now having received his diploma, Baas can make an honest pitch while using his situation as an example of finishing what you start. Baas is one of several professional athletes, including a few of his current New York Giants teammates, who were determined to complete the education they started as NCAA student-athletes.

“A degree from Michigan is huge…Especially with the economy today, it makes it even more tough to get out there and get a job,” Baas, 30, said as the Giants prepared for Sunday's Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. “This isn’t going to last forever. Eventually, you’re going to need that degree to help you find success in the real world.”

Baas said he completed a class on Roman civilization – an independent study course requiring a 30-page paper – to earn his general studies degree in 2010.

“It’s no competition - my wife (Elizabeth) has an electrical engineering degree,” the 6-4, 330-pound center said with a laugh. “I can’t just have hers up there on the wall. I’ve gotta have Dad’s up there too for the kids.”

Completing degree requirements took several off-seasons of work for Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who played at Coffeyville Community College and Auburn before finishing up at Southern Illinois. The 29-year-old received his college diploma from Fairleigh Dickinson in December 2011.

“It means something to me to get a degree because I’m the first one in my family that has one,” said Jacobs, who studied sociology. “It’s big for my kids (Brayden Kenneth and Quinn Caleb) to see both Mommy and Daddy have a college degree. I want them to know that nothing less than that is going to happen, they’re going to get that.”

Jacobs received encouragement from his wife Kim, who has two degrees. He also credited the NFL Continuing Education Program that assists active players in returning to school at their original institutions or one near their home or club or through distance education.

Earning a master’s degree while playing in the pros is somewhat rare, but equally valued.

A self-described blue-collar guy from the South Side of Chicago, Illinois alum David Diehl completed his final human resources class in 2008 to earn a master’s degree in human resource education from the school.

“You know football doesn’t last forever – you’re one play away from being injured and your career could be over and you have to have something to fall back on,” Diehl, 31, said. “Your brain lasts a lot longer than your body does in the NFL and I think I’ve always used that as my motivating factor.”

So the likeable 6-5, 300-pound tackle wanted to finish what he started at Illinois, where he spent five years including a redshirt campaign. He had graduated in three and a half years with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication in 2001 and spent the next year and a half working on his master’s, falling one class short.

Once his playing days are over, Diehl has a plan in place for putting his undergrad degree to work in the field of broadcasting. Diehl said he’s already completed the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp, held internships at the NFL Network and ESPN and done ESPN radio shows and SportsNet New York TV studio shows.

“I’ve been working very, very hard so that when I walk away from this game, I have a game plan just like you do in football,” he said.