Former football players leave huddle for classroom

Jonas Jennings and Marcus Stroud have shuffled between meetings and classes since last Friday, their first day as students at the GW School of Business.

The schedule is not quite as demanding as when the two former linemen played football together at the University of Georgia in the late 1990s, but the books feel just as heavy as the pads, Jennings said.

“I think the meetings are like the [National Football League] when you’re doing two-a-days,” Jennings, who played offensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers, said. “It’s getting your mind back and remembering the old trig and algebra from college and relating it to accounting. You just have to refresh yourself.”

At a combined weight of more than 600 pounds, Jennings and Stroud may not look like the average business school students but they fit the mold in GW’s STAR executive master of business administration program, a two-year program tailored to athletes and celebrities.

The group of 25 students, who pay $95,000 for their degree, started classes on campus last week after the program launched last summer with 22 students. The STAR program, which stands for “Special Talent, Access and Responsibility,” will be taught in three cities across six two-week modules to prepare students for the business world.

The students, about half of which are current or retired NFL players, take classes from business school professors in subjects like leadership and organization, finance, accounting, entrepreneurship and marketing. They can also take elective courses that cover topics like real estate and philanthropy.

Students packed into a conference room Tuesday at the Institute of Peace, hearing from a panel of policymakers and nongovernmental organization leaders about the intersection between sports and foreign policy issues.

“The skill sets and the subject matter that the students study are the same as any MBA in the world,” Sanjay Rupani, the business school’s chief strategist said. “The education’s a very important component of their transition.”

The program is not the first to cater to athletes looking to transition from life in a locker room to a boardroom.

In 2005, the NFL helped place players in top business schools at Harvard, Stanford and Northwestern universities and the University of Pennsylvania through its NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. Those programs typically offer a certificate over two weeks of workshops and lectures, but not an MBA degree.

Dean Doug Guthrie said GW’s fully accredited program offers the rigor of its world executive MBA but with added schedule flexibility for the current and former athletes.

“I’m an advocate of customizing curriculum, especially in the executive education space,” Guthrie said last month. “The issue is to sit with people who are experiencing the same kinds of challenges that you’re experiencing and really go deep on certain areas.”

For Stroud, who played in three Pro Bowls over his 10-year career, the first hurdle is adjusting from life on the field to the classroom after he was released from the New England Patriots last summer.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve been back on campus and had to carry the books and take notes. I’m a little nervous,” Stroud said.

Jennings and Stroud still live near each other in Atlanta after leading their university to four bowl wins as teammates, and have both turned to business after their NFL careers.

Stroud started a charitable foundation that looks to offer academic and athletic opportunities to underprivileged children. Jennings runs power washing and real estate companies with his brother.

“A lot of people think that once you play football and you make a certain amount of money that you don’t need an education and that’s the biggest myth,” Stroud said.

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