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Who says you have to stop your education just because the NFL draft is calling your name? Despite locking in a first-round grade when he decided to enter the draft after his junior season, CJ Henderson, the ninth overall pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020, never made such a compromise.
With a promising but injury-shortened rookie season in the books, Henderson has something else on the horizon besides his impending return to the field: a commencement ceremony. The former Florida football player has finished the requirements for his degree in educational sciences and will walk in Florida’s spring graduation, according to a report from FloridaGators.com senior writer Scott Carter.
“That was an accomplishment I wanted to achieve,” Henderson told Carter. “I just wanted to get it out of the way rather than wait until later and come back and do it.”
Henderson never took a semester off from UF. He took classes through the pre-draft process, summer, his rookie season and even this spring to finish up his degree. He even paid for classes out of pocket when the NFL paused its tuition-reimbursement program due to COVID-19, according to Carter.
Henderson’s father, Chris Henderson Sr., told Carter that he’s proud of his son’s commitment to his education, especially in the face of the difficulties presented by the pandemic.
“I’m definitely in awe of it, because I know how hard it is just to be trying to compete in the league for the first year,” he said. “Some take a break or whatever. I’m just proud of him, the way he stuck with it. The corona year made it even tougher. It was a learning year.”
Though players have the option to continue their schooling after they’ve left for the NFL, Tony Meachem, Florida’s assistant director of academic services for the UAA, said that it’s a rare occurrence.
“I can’t remember a kid that has done that in the past since I’ve been here,” he said. “They usually will get with us the spring after their first year and will want to take some classes. To his credit, he was willing to put in the work besides the work he was putting in on the field. You think someone in his position would be glued to football, but he was doing both.
“It was very impressive for someone to do that in his position.”
To complete school on time while also dealing with the schedule of a professional football player (a rookie, no less) is quite a feat. The Jaguars can only hope his off-field drive translates to on-field success as he looks to build off a first season that saw him total 36 tackles, a pick and a forced fumble in eight games.