In typical times, training camp is a hectic time for NFL players, and adjusting to the "new normal" of this season has made it especially so. Now, add turning in the final assignment for graduate school into the mix, and that makes for a jam-packed summer.
This was the case for Joe Thuney, who completed his Master of Business Administration [MBA] from Indiana University Bloomington's Kelley School of Business in August.
Starting in 2017, Thuney began taking online courses in the spring and summer through the NFL's tuition reimbursement program. With an undergraduate degree in accounting, as well as a Spanish minor, from North Carolina State, Thuney said an MBA just made sense.
"It was just something I'm interested in. It was really interesting material," he said. "It was something, I guess, that was too good of an opportunity to pass up."
Pursing a graduate degree and an NFL career, individually, are taxing, but doing both simultaneously is an exercise in balance, drive and task management. Over the course of four years, Thuney's falls and winters centered on football. His two Super Bowl rings since being drafted by the Patriots in 2016 speak for themselves.
It takes hard work, motivation and skill to be successful. The same is true of an education.
His springs and summers – the invaluable offseason where players can spend time with loved ones, travel and relax – were spent in virtual classrooms.
"It's a great relief," Thuney said of completing the program.
As difficult as it was to pull double-duty, Thuney wasn't alone in the locker room when it came to furthering his education. Former teammate and good friend Ted Karras was in the same program, and former teammate Stephen Gostkowski was also working towards his MBA.
Having others who understood what it meant to balance both school and the NFL helped to hold each other accountable.
"We would talk a lot in the locker room, just updating each other and how we were doing, making sure we were still on task," Thuney said. "It was nice to have other people because they understood. They had the same experiences. It was nice to lean on each other."
While Thuney "never stepped foot" on campus or met most of his classmates in person, he said one of the most beneficial parts of the program was working with others – not unlike football.
"There was a lot of group-work, collaborating, how to communicate well with your teammates what your strengths are, what you can help the team with," he said. "That was one aspect, and then just working through problems. There were some hard assignments and football teaches you to keep working, keep your head down and keep grinding away. That helped too. Be persistent about it, just one thing after another."
Thuney and Karras originally planned to attend graduation in Bloomington, but it, like so many events, was canceled due to the pandemic. Instead of walking across a stage with his friend and former teammate, there were celebratory letters in the mail.
His diploma, he hopes, isn't too far behind. Though he's not quite sure yet where in his home it will be on display.
"I do not know [where the diploma will go]. I hope it's not bent too much," he said. "I'm proud of it, but I don't know where it'll go. We'll see."
While the diploma is the physical symbol of four years of work, the hope is that the graduate experience will open doors in his post-football life. Whatever that chapter brings, Thuney said education is always a valuable tool.
"It was a lot of hard work, but I thought very well worth it," he said. "I would encourage anyone to pursue any post-graduate degree if they can. Education is a great thing."