Bucs’ Vincent Jackson thrilled to get degree at 33 from USF

Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson has caught more than 500 passes over 11 seasons in the NFL, has opened restaurants, owned fitness centers, invested in real estate, and on Saturday, he added another line to his resume: college graduate.

Jackson, 33, sat in cap and gown among the proud graduates at USF's spring graduation ceremonies, having finished the degree -- a Bachelor of Science degree from USF's Muma College of Business, where he's taken classes for the last two years.

"I really enjoyed it this time. I did really well. I think I had more of a desire," he said. "Sometimes as a student, you're trying to pass a class. As a professional now, I felt more of a desire to pick up the information and retain it."

When Jackson entered the NFL draft in 2005, he was about one semester short of graduating at Northern Colorado, and took a few distance-learning classes when he was with the San Diego Chargers. When he signed with the Bucs in 2012, eyeing life after football, he sought to finish that degree. Football season makes taking fall classes impossible, but he's taken a class or two each spring and summer -- he never sat in auditoriums with the general student body, but he'd go to campus twice a week, meeting with professors as in an independent study.

"They made sure I was on the same track as their classrooms," said Jackson, who took gen-ed classes like statistics and accounting, as well as business courses in management, international business and financial analysis.

Early in his NFL career, Jackson said he made small investments in businesses, more to gain an understanding of how they worked, and more recently has been interested in getting directly involved in day-to-day operations.

"I've always had an interest in whatever I'm in investing. I didn't want to take my hands off the wheel," he said. "I feel I have a right as a shareholder to understand what's going on. I've always asked the people that actually run the business, whatever it may be. I want to be educated. I kind of demand that."

Jackson has been named the Bucs' Man of the Year three years in a row, with his Jackson in Action 83 Foundation active in helping military families, especially at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base. As much as NFL players are paid, the league offers tuition reimbursement as an extra incentive to get players to finish their college degrees, something Jackson did and hopes more of his teammates will do.

"Maybe you've done well, or you haven't done well, but it's nice to have the extra incentive," Jackson said of the reimbursement. "You're going to be reimbursed, so you don't really have any excuses to think about."

Jackson is entering the final season of a five-year, $55-million deal he signed in 2012, proud to finish a free-agent contract in an NFL economy where many players are released before they are able to finish a lucrative, longterm deal. If he gets 866 receiving yards this season, he'll become the Bucs' all-time career leader in receiving yards, and with 69 catches, he'll have the most receptions of any receiver in team history.

Jackson said he hasn't decided whether 2016 could be his final season, but would like to continue playing beyond this fall, and hopes to retire in Tampa.

"I love Tampa. I would love to retire here -- I've put my roots here," he said. "I plan on staying, no matter what happens with football. I plan on making this home for a while. But that will be a family and a business decision, once free agency hits (next spring) and whatever happens with the Bucs, if it doesn't happen during the season, like some sort of extension. I'm just happy to be playing this year."

Jackson missed six games with injuries last season but is healthy and hopeful to return to the form that had him over 1,000 receiving yards in four straight years before last fall. The only other receiver from his 2005 draft class still in the NFL would be former Falcons star Roddy White, now an unsigned free agent, and he feels a certain accomplishment in outlasting all the other receivers he came into the league with.

"The older you get, each opportunity you get to go out and have another crack at it, you don't have that same invincibility as when you're in your third year," he said. "It's reality, but I feel good. I feel like I'm still playing at a high level. I'd love to finish as a Buccaneers, whether it's next year or three years down the road."

Like any graduate, Jackson took personal pride in attending Saturday's graduation ceremonies, his family cheering him from the audience, along with friends from his original college days in Colorado who surprised him by coming in.

"I actually walked," he said. "The whole crew was there on stage, the president and everyone. It was awesome. This was something for me and my family. I wasn't going to walk originally, but my folks kind of twisted my arm: 'C'mon. You've been working hard for a while.' It's worth it for the memories. Such an awesome day."

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Neil S. Schwartz

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