Jonathan Brown makes the most of a call home from UT

17 years after arriving at UT, Brown gets degree

As they readied themselves for a photo, Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley adjusts the tassel on Jonathan Brown's cap prior to Friday morning's graduation ceremony in Pratt Pavilion. Shawn Bryson is at right adjusting his own cap.

Photo by Patrick-Murphy Racey / UTADPhoto

As they readied themselves for a photo, Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley adjusts the tassel on Jonathan Brown's cap prior to Friday morning's graduation ceremony in Pratt Pavilion. Shawn Bryson is at right adjusting his own cap.

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.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward

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Comments » 17

Prostar writes:

Congratulations on earning your diploma. Had you never gone back to finish you would always wonder if you could have. I heard an inspirational speech by Bob Harrington the self-proclaimed "Minister of Bourbon Street" in which he said "your want-to has to want to". Congratulations again, now go and inspire others to do the same thing.

seadaddy writes:

Jonathan has always been one of my all time favorite Vols,proud of you Jonathan.

imw8n4u writes:

Congrats Jonathan - Few people know this, but he was actually the first player to direct the band in Rocky Top after we finally beat Bama. He litterally pulled the drum major off the ladder and climbed up. Then the band director got Peyton involved and he got all the press for it, but if not for Jonathan's enthusiam, that would have never happened.

Mobbdeep4life writes:

I remember meeting Jonathan while I was at Tennessee. He seemed like a good guy. Congratulations on him completing his degree.

RoadTrip writes:

Good stuff - congrats to Jonathon! VFL.

BolivrBob writes:

Real good stuff

flatrock writes:

in response to BolivrBob:

Real good stuff

Well said, Huck!

JOHNWARD4EVER writes:

Proud of ya BIG JOHN! GOD bless.Thanks for the memories!!!

Bubba_Knows writes:

With all the negative stuff we have had to read on here about UT football, this is truly a great story!

VOLinTX writes:

Outstanding. Congratulations Mr. Brown. Another story of determination.

elbtenn#502977 writes:

Would be really nice to have some guys with his passion playing now!

nocleats writes:

in response to elbtenn#502977:

Would be really nice to have some guys with his passion playing now!

And his talent

Gunzilla writes:

Congrats!

kantanuuv writes:

Listen up prep school football prospects. The UT Voles football program is a direct pipeline to the Eastern European Developmental Football League.

You can take that (and a couple of part-time construction jobs during the season) to the bank!

justafan4ut writes:

in response to kantanuuv:

Listen up prep school football prospects. The UT Voles football program is a direct pipeline to the Eastern European Developmental Football League.

You can take that (and a couple of part-time construction jobs during the season) to the bank!

MORON!!!!!!!!!!

voodoo101 writes:

in response to Pat777:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thank you for your reasoning and your decision. The right to dissent is something that makes this country greater and stronger, but in times like these and with recruits looking hard at potential schools, a unified and welcoming fan base is important. Unhappy factions among the fan base brought us where we are now; change handled wisely can be positive - otherwise change can disrupt and destroy.

Supersayin1 writes:

Better Late than never! Rock On, GO VOLS!!!!

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