Eight years later, Cardinals' Chandler Jones graduates from Syracuse

Chandler Jones, the only NFL player in the past four seasons with at least 60 sacks and 17 forced fumbles, completed his degree in child and family studies online. Ralph Freso/Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Eight years after leaving Syracuse University one class shy of graduation, Arizona Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones finally went back to school this offseason.

The process began two years ago when he started looking at the logistics of it, and continued this January when he started his final class, a family studies course.

And on May 9, he and his family finally got to celebrate his college degree.

"Why not finish what you started?" asked Jones, who majored in child and family studies.

The workload wasn't tough, Jones said. He found time to get his schoolwork in between daily workouts and travel, including a trip to watch his brother Jon defend his UFC light heavyweight title in early February.

The three-credit class was entirely online, said Salatha Willis, Jones' academic adviser at Syracuse.

When Jones left Syracuse to train for the 2012 NFL draft -- the New England Patriots selected him with the 21st overall pick -- he was given the option to return and graduate at some point. But once Jones decided to finish his degree, Willis had to educate Jones on what school was like in 2020 from a technological standpoint.

Jones needed an update on how Syracuse does things now, from using the popular online higher-education program Blackboard to getting necessary access to online portals and tools.

Jones is the only NFL player in the past four seasons to record at least 60 sacks and 17 forced fumbles. He was a member of the Patriots' Super Bowl XLIX championship team. But from an academic standpoint, he was treated just like any other student, Willis said. That meant Jones had to meet all the requirements other students did: completing the course work, exams, quizzes and papers.

Willis pointed out that there's a common misconception that online courses are easier than in-person classes because the professor isn't present. But Willis said online courses come with a different set of requirements, such as discussion boards instead of class conversations. For example, some classes, Willis said, require each student to write a weekly post, which could be as long as 500 words, and then respond to other students' posts. That's on top of the weekly reading and writing assignments for a class, which could end with a 15- to 20-page paper.

Willis said Jones handled everything smoothly, and while he couldn't share the final grade, he said Jones did "exceptionally well."

"He was a really good student," Willis said. "Everybody always spoke highly of him. Even the academic coordinators in the past that were in my position spoke highly of him.

"I asked him if he needed any support from our office in terms of tutoring or anything, because you never know what you may need coming back to school, and he's like, 'No, I'm fine. I'll reach out to you if I need anything.' And he didn't need anything."

Willis, who communicated with Jones mainly through text messages, had some help keeping an eye on Jones.

William Hicks, who was the Syracuse football team's strength and conditioning coach while Jones was in school, is now the athletic department's director of development and major gifts. He'd check in with Jones, suggesting certain questions for him to ask Willis. The three also had regular conference calls.

And now Jones has his degree, and he keeps it in a special place.

"To my family and personally, education is very important," Jones said. "Even though I haven't used my degree, as of yet, I'm pretty sure it would definitely come in handy when I'm done playing football. But that's the reason why I went back after eight, nine years of being out of college. I think that's very important. My kids could look back and say 'My dad graduated.' So, I'm happy. It's a huge accomplishment for our family.

"And it hangs right up there with that Super Bowl ring."