The first call came from Green Bay.
The Packers dialed up Jonathan Brown, made him a third-round draft choice in 1998 and put the Tennessee defensive lineman's plans to finish his degree on hold.
Then the phone started ringing from all over the world, sending him overseas for a spell in Berlin, then another in Amsterdam for NFL Europe. He sprinkled in stops in Denver, St. Louis and Washington back in the NFL and eventually settled in as a fan favorite for six seasons with Toronto in the Canadian Football League.
Just as that all seemed to be winding down and Brown was turning his focus to life after football, he answered one last time when British Columbia inquired about his services.
But it was a call from UT that stuck out in his mind some 17 years after he first showed up on campus. And finally on Friday morning, the 36-year-old Brown picked up the diploma he always planned on earning — just a little later than he initially planned.
"Man, the journey, the journey was special," Brown said before his graduation ceremony on campus. "You know what, I didn't think it would take that long, especially back in 1994. But with being drafted, that kind of changed everything for me and I was lucky enough to play pro football for a while, and I wouldn't have changed that at all.
"But being back here with my family, this is a good thing, a fun thing. I was happy when I woke up this morning and I knew I was a college graduate."
Brown didn't need much convincing to come back and become one long after his playing days with the Vols were over.
Though Brown had promised his mother he was going to get it done at some point, he was motivated enough
on his own to wrap up his studies in psychology as he prepares to shift his energy and attention to programs for at-risk kids in Oklahoma. And after a little nudging and a surprise call from Dan Carlson, the current Tennessee Fund associate director and longtime coordinator of the Renewing Academic Commitment program, Brown had all the incentive he needed to pack up his family and rent a place in Maryville for two semesters.
"I was chilling at home and Dan called me and was like, 'You probably should come back and get your degree,' " Brown said. "I was like, 'How did he get my number?'
"But he called, and so I was like, 'Yeah, I'll come back. I'm retired, I'm not doing anything.' I thought about it and realized it would be cool to go back and get it."
He could have had it sooner if not for one somewhat unexpected deal to extend his playing career in Canada, which delayed Brown's push for a degree after his initial conversation with Carlson.
But once he officially closed that chapter of his life, Brown was ready to crack open a textbook once again.
"He thought he was done before he got a last-second call from a team that made him a nice offer," Carlson said. "I don't blame him because you have to maximize your window of opportunity in professional sports. It's so small. You've got to maximize that as long as you can because your earning potential is quite well at that time. It's quite more than a lot of us will have an opportunity to make.
"That presented itself for one more year and it delayed it. He was able once he officially retired, and we got him back in school again."
Brown is all set to leave UT once more. But now he's got what he came for when the whole journey started.