Keith Jennings and Terry Allen have some unfinished business they’re tending to in Clemson University’s College of Business. And the former National Football League and Tiger standouts aren’t letting an extended hiatus from the classroom get in the way of completing what they started 30 years ago.

Former NFL player Keith Jennings keeps close ties to football while completing his degree in business.

Former NFL player Keith Jennings keeps close ties to Clemson football while completing his degree in business.
Image Credit: Carl Ackerman

Their return to Sirrine Hall is driven by a desire to complete business degrees following successful careers in the NFL. And, though there are plenty of adjustments to be made with that kind of time lapse, the benefits to them, their classmates and student-athletes, are many.

“Finishing this is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” said Jennings, who played for the Tigers from 1985-88 followed by a career with the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears as a tight end. “Throughout my career, I preached to young people on the importance of an education. Well, now I’m practicing what I preached.”

Allen, a native of Commerce, Ga., was a running back for the Tigers from 1987-89. He was drafted in 1990 by the Minnesota Vikings and played 10 years in the NFL for several other teams, including the Washington Redskins, where he was named all-pro in 1996.

“By returning to finish my degree work, I’m fulfilling a promise I made to my mother. Among other benefits, the experience is helping me to better understand how to run my trucking business,” said Allen, a management major who plans to graduate in May of 2017. “The degree is also going to open more opportunities for me, like coaching high school or college football someday.”

Tuition expenses for Jennings and Allen are covered through Tiger Trust, which provides Clemson student-athletes who have exhausted eligibility or left early for a professional career, to return and finish their undergraduate degree. The NFL Trust provides $20,000 a year toward a former player’s continuing education with the remaining expenses paid by IPTAY and the athletic department.

Tiger Trust is part of the Clemson Will for student athletes, which was launched by Dan Radakovich, athletic director, in 2015. It is administered through Athletic Academic Services and is co-directed by Barbara Kennedy Dixon and Wayne “Cheech” Coffman.

About 30 former professional football, baseball and soccer athletes have continued their education through Tiger Trust since 2014.

“The return to school is an adjustment on many levels for professional athletes,” Kennedy Dixon said. “For instance, depending on when they last attended school, there’s a communications adjustment. Today, students are all about smartphones and texting, where some returning students find face-to-face communication more the norm.”

Allen and Jennings agree that one of the biggest adjustments to re-entering the classroom is technology and how integral it is to learning, compared to the ’80s.

“Everything is so fast today with technology. I mean, I’m the age of many of my classmates’ parents and I have children their age, so they understand the technology challenges I face,” said Jennings, a native of Summerville who plans to graduate in 2017. “They’ve really been great in helping me adapt to the challenges technology presents to someone my age.”

Allen, too, has had to overcome technology hurdles, but he says there are benefits to being back in school when there are fewer demands on one’s time and focus.

Terry Allen is finishing his business degree after careers with the NFL's Vikings and Redskins.

Terry Allen is finishing his business degree after careers with the NFL’s Vikings and Redskins.
Image Credit: Carl Ackerman

“Before, there were a lot of outside-the-classroom distractions with football, playing for a major college program like Clemson,” he said. “My focus today is on school and I’m not worried about things outside the classroom.”

Kristin Scott, associate professor of management, said the former athletes’ return to the classroom not only benefits them but their younger classmates also.

“Bringing someone back into the classroom who’s experienced what they have is a tremendous benefit to many of their younger counterparts in the classroom,” Scott said. “The insights and career advice they share from those experiences are invaluable. And, their insights oftentimes reinforce what I’ve been teaching in class because they’ve lived it and can offer a perspective that others cannot.”

Though they may not be able to match their classmates’ technology know-how, Allen and Jennings agree they do bring something to the classroom that their younger counterparts don’t.

“It’s life experiences,” said Jennings. “The class curriculum often touches on career topics that I’ve experienced. It’ awesome to share in a classroom setting my examples of what’s being taught.”

Jennings and Allen remain connected to Clemson’s football program through mentoring/coaching roles. Though independent of Tiger Trust, it affords them opportunities to share their career experiences with student-athletes aspiring to play in the NFL, and offer them advice.

“One of the first things I tell them is to get their degree,” Allen said. “The NFL may want you, but they don’t need you. Being able to share some of the valuable life lessons I learned along the way may help them see things they might otherwise overlook.”

Tiger Trust has given Jennings and Allen the opportunity to pursue life after football with a degree in their pocket. It’s something they don’t take lightly.

“There’s a lot left for me to do and the degree will open doors for me,” said Jennings, who has financial interests in Charleston-area restaurants and land development. “Pro football gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people and one thing all those people had was a degree. It’s an incomplete in my life that I need to finish.”

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