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Ex-Beavers running back worked toward his HDFS degree online while playing in the NFL

Jacquizz Rodgers, OSU running back

At Oregon State University, we have a term for students who put their education on hold for a year or more.

We call them stopouts. They’re not “college dropouts,” because they haven’t quit on their dream of earning a degree. Life happens, and many students simply need to focus their attention elsewhere.

They take on demanding jobs.

They care for their children.

They battle health issues.

Sometimes they go play in the NFL for nearly a decade.

Jacquizz Rodgers fits into this last category. He’s one of the most beloved and accomplished sports figures in Oregon State history. Since he arrived on OSU’s Corvallis campus as an 18-year-old freshman in 2008, he has piled up the accolades: three-time NCAA All-American, Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, workhorse NFL running back.

And now? College graduate.

It was a long, on-again, off-again journey, as it is for a significant number of adult learners. In that way, even a world-class athlete like Jacquizz is no different than his Oregon State peers. In other ways, of course, he stands out.

Jacquizz played for the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers across eight seasons in the NFL.

He declared for the NFL draft after his junior season in order to capitalize on his elite talent and college success. His blend of speed, power, quickness and good hands made it a career opportunity he simply couldn’t let pass.

In one major life decision, Jacquizz bet on himself twice — to live in the moment and pursue his dream of playing professional football, and to plan for a future that included his academics.

“When I left school early, it was a promise I made to my mom and my uncle that I would finish my degree,” he says now. “I have kids and I have nephews, so it’s not about that I played in the NFL and don’t need a degree. It’s more about showing them that having grit is important. You can play football at the highest level and also finish your education.”

The rigors of playing in the NFL — the physical, mental and emotional toll — cannot be overstated. It is a demanding profession, even with the million-dollar salaries. Jacquizz could have waited until his playing days were over to return to school.

But it didn’t take long for him to become a student again. Immediately after helping the Atlanta Falcons make the playoffs as a rookie in 2011, he enrolled in classes online with Oregon State Ecampus. He resumed his path toward earning a bachelor’s degree in human development and family sciences, taking classes periodically.

The work-study balance was perfect.

“As soon as the off-season came, I would start taking my classes. That would help me stay mentally ready,” Jacquizz says. “Instead of just lounging around and working out, it kept me on a complete schedule and kept me disciplined and focused outside of football.”

That’s not to say that it was smooth sailing and a quick waltz toward degree completion. As is the case with many working adults who learn online with Oregon State, Jacquizz was enrolled in Ecampus classes one term here, two terms there. He even took a break for nearly three years as he established himself as an important piece of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense.

All told, he spent eight highly productive years in the NFL. After playing his final season in 2018, Jacquizz dedicated himself to his academics and had a renewed focus on learning.

“I became more of a student-athlete instead of an athlete-student. When I was in school (from 2008-10), I was younger and I was playing football and trying to get by,” he says. “Now that I’m a little older, I try to take what I’ve learned in my classes and apply them as life skills. That’s the biggest difference.”

The other notable change, he says, is that Ecampus courses are much more hands-on than they were when he took a few online as an on-campus student.

“It’s more of a feeling like you’re in the class,” he says. “You’re giving presentations and interacting with your classmates. I really liked that.”

As fate would have it, a classmate in one of his final classes was Steven Jackson, another iconic Beavers running back and one of the top rushers in NFL history. Steven also completed his HDFS degree online through Ecampus in summer 2020 — one quarter before Jacquizz did.

With his playing career behind him, Jacquizz is focused on the next phase: coaching. His goal is to help guide younger generations at either the high school level or college as a running backs coach. He runs summer camps in his native Texas and Oregon each year for youth players, and serving as a mentor suits him well.

But first, one task remains in his college career. He plans to attend Oregon State’s next in-person commencement ceremony at Reser Stadium in Corvallis. There he will accept his OSU diploma on the same field where he became a local legend and a national star.

“That’s crazy, I never even thought about it like that,” Jacquizz says at the sudden realization of life coming full circle. “Wow, that will be special. That’s the place where I had success and really started my life and career in a big way.

“To be able to have this type of ending at Reser, that’s going to be great.”

This story was originally posted on Oregon State Ecampus News.

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