May 30, 2006
Kelly Herndon's efforts to earn his bachelor's degree from the University of Toledo parallel his determination to make it in the NFL. It's been a long, hard road, and 2006 saw the payoff for him in both journeys.
After battling for years to earn a regular role with the Denver Broncos, Herndon signed a large free- agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks last year. A very solid season by Herndon culminated with his appearance at the 2006 Super Bowl at Detroit's Ford Field where he set a Super Bowl record with a 76-yard interception return.
Playing in the Super Bowl temporarily prevented Herndon from reaching his other goal: earning his diploma from UT. Because the Super Bowl extended his season to Feb. 5, Herndon was not able to sign up for spring semester classes, instead waiting until this May to return and complete his work in the summer. His academic journey, which began when he enrolled at UT as a freshman in 1995, will be complete on June 23, provided he passes his two classes.
Herndon, a native of Twinsburg, Ohio, played cornerback at UT from 1995-98. His blazing speed helped him sign as a free agent by the San Francisco 49ers in 1999. When he departed from school to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL, he was about a full year shy of earning his degree. But there was never any doubt in his mind he would one day graduate from college.
"I switched majors from electrical engineering to psychology during my junior year so that put me behind in getting my degree," said Herndon. "But I don't like not finishing things. I worked hard at my academics when I was playing college football. I wanted that hard work to pay off. I also wanted to make my mother proud. And my father (who is deceased), I know he's looking down and is proud of me, too."
Herndon started taking classes again three years ago and has slowly inched his way toward his degree. Until this spring, all his work was done via the internet. His final two classes, a research lab and a classroom course, "Research Methods," require him to take the classes in person, so for the first time since 1998 he's back on campus as just another student. Just another student with an NFC championship ring on his finger, that is.
Herndon's determination to graduate should serve as an example to all current and former UT student-athletes, according to head football coach Tom Amstutz.
"We're very proud of Kelly. He came here to get a degree and he's been determined to do that," said Amstutz. "He's been doing great work in the NFL but he never lost sight of his goal. Even though he's financially secure, he still understands the importance of getting his degree. That's a great message for the players in our program."
Herndon's drive to succeed obviously extends to the playing field. It would have been easy for him to be discouraged from his dream of playing in the NFL but he never gave up. Not when he went undrafted. Not when he was cut by the 49ers, or when he logged thousands of miles playing everywhere from Barcelona, Spain for NFL Europe to Arena League destinations like Raleigh, NC and Columbus, OH.
Those travels early in Herndon's career prevented him from going back to school right away. But once he got established with the Broncos, he put his mind back on earning his degree.
"It's been somewhat of a struggle trying to finish my degree," said Herndon. "Starting and stopping your school work is more difficult than going to school straight through. After so many years, you can forget some things. The class I'm in now has concepts that I haven't studied in eight years. Plus it requires a lot of off-season conditioning to play in the NFL. You can relax for about a month after the season to let your body heal and that's about it."
Herndon needed extra time to heal this year because the Seahawks made it all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to Pittsburgh, 21-10. Herndon counts the experience as one of the highlights of his life.
"Playing in the Super Bowl was the best feeling in the world," said Herndon. "It's such a big stage. You know people from all over the world are watching. Not everybody who plays in the NFL gets that chance. It's also pretty amazing to think that my name is in the record book for longest interception return."
Herndon ran that interception back 76 yards to the Pittsburgh 20-yard line, setting up the Seahawks' only touchdown. It was undoubtedly the biggest moment of his sporting life.
Less than five months later, Herndon is expecting to reach another milestone. And that, undoubtedly, will be the biggest moment of his academic life.
By Paul Helgren, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
Kelly Herndon will be receiving his degree in psychology in June.