Here was this guy, this multimillion-dollar athlete, this two-time Super Bowl champion, this defensive lineman in the prime of his football career, dominating the classroom with a barrage of questions and leading the discussions.
When Warren said he went back to Texas A&M this spring to earn his degree, he couldn’t have put much more emphasis on the word "earn."
"I think they were surprised with how much I was involved in the class," Warren said. "I had them laughing, and I was probably the first one to raise my hand every time to go and participate in whatever activity, or energize or be the icebreaker in whatever we were doing. I think it was kind of crazy for them that I was just like them."
Warren spent his offseason on campus, skipping the team's voluntary workouts and practices to work toward his degree. He checked off 21 credit hours this spring and has 11 to complete next spring before finally earning the degree he has been seeking since he left school early to enter the 2003 draft.
The Patriots' defensive end returned to Foxboro last week, and he attended his first practice Tuesday. While Warren has been open to a small amount of criticism for missing New England's workouts, he has no regrets and said it was an easy decision to make.
"It wasn't [a] tough [decision]," Warren said. "It was a sacrifice I made. Not only did I sacrifice from being up here, I sacrificed a lot of hobbies that I like to do in the offseason. Not a bad decision at all."
Warren has long been one of the most stand-up, professional guys in New England's locker room, and he said the decision to work toward his degree was also a good lesson for his kids. His wife and children stayed with him on campus, and Warren thought it was a positive experience for them to spend time in that type of an atmosphere.
"They got to see it first-hand and all that good stuff," Warren said. "They always heard about their daddy going to Texas A&M, but they actually got to pick me up for lunch and do all that type of stuff on campus. It was good for them."
Many have asked why Warren chose to do this now, in his prime, when he could have waited until the end of his career to go back to school. That’s where the crux of the criticism has come from, but Warren wanted to be prepared for two things — first, life after football, and second, a potential lockout in 2011.
"I think the lockout situation had a lot to do with it," Warren said. "If a lockout was to happen, I'm not the type of person to sit out, sit back and go on 10 vacations if I'm not playing football. I'm the type of person [who will] work regardless. I've had the opportunity to go back to A&M to do some things.
"My thing is this: I've had offers to do things, but I don’t want [earn a business opportunity] just because I'm a Super Bowl champion, New England Patriot, former A&M Aggie. I want to have credentials when I go in there. I'm the type of player, I want to earn what I got. I don’t want to be there and be working just because. If a lockout was to happen, I have my degree and [would] be working with my credentials doing what I like to do."
Bill Belichick was asked Tuesday about his reaction when he learned of Warren's offseason plans, but the Patriots head coach had little comment, only saying they were voluntary workouts that Warren missed. Perhaps some in the organization weren’t overly thrilled with Warren's decision to work toward his degree, but the guys on the field were impressed. Some of them even told Warren that he inspired them to eventually do the same.
''That's something big, for somebody to do that in the prime of his
career," Vince Wilfork said. "That says a lot, what type of person he
is, as an individual and as a player. He has a lot of respect on this
team, starting with me. But I'm happy he's back. My partner in crime is
At the end of the day, it sounds a little crazy that Warren could be criticized for wanting to further his education, but it's also understandable for others to want him to spend more time on the football field. The seven-year veteran, however, is now back at Gillette Stadium and working out with his teammates.
And about 11 months from now, they'll all be able to attend his graduation party.