While the majority of the Bengals are spending their off season visiting various tropical islands or watching the playoffs with their head in their hands thinking about what could have been, Bengals sack leader and rookie Carlos Dunlap is busy studying. He's not studying his playbook or AFC North offenses. No, Dunlap is taking notes in class and reading text books. According to Robbie Andreu, of The Gainesville Sun, he returned to his college, the University of Florida, in the off season to continue pursuing his degree in family, youth and community service with a minor in business.
"I felt like the longer you wait, the harder it is for you to come back," Dunlap said. "I just thought the transition would be a lot easier to do it now, to knock some of it out. The present is as good a time as any to get a degree. As hard as it was now to come back, I can imagine how hard it would be to come back a few years down the road."
Dunlap seems to have his head squarely set on his shoulders. Many were concerned when the Bengals drafted Dunlap in the second-round of the 2010 NFL draft due to his DUI arrest in December of 2009 before the Gators played Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Knowing Mike Brown's habit of drafting or signing free agents with character issues, many fans and analysts were concerned that Dunlap may fall under the Odell Thurman-A.J. Nickolson category. Instead, the Bengals got 9.5 sacks out of their rookie defensive end (a new franchise record).
"That incident changed my whole life," Dunlap said. "It made me respect the game a lot more. It showed me how everything can be taken from you by making one mistake, and not knowing whether you'll be able to play again. I remember what (former NFL wide receiver) Cris Carter once said. He said, 'I will never again allow my life to be put in the hands of somebody else where they can make the decision whether I play football again or not.'
"That's the quote I thought of (when I was suspended). I'm going to use that quote the rest of my career."
Going back to school is a sign of Dunlap's maturity and his knowledge that he can't play football forever and unfortunate injuries do happen. Eventually, he wants to take over his family's bail bonding business. Fortunately for Bengals fans, "eventually" isn't in the immediate future.
"Of course, I love playing football and I want to be the best at it. I want to be an NFL Hall of Famer. But like my dad always says, the NFL stands for 'Not For Long.' I want to make sure I get my degree, and now is the time to do it."
Dunlap was injured early in the season. He didn't consistently play until the seventh week of the season against the Falcons and he didn't have his first sack until the Bengals played the Colts in week 10. Then, starting in week 12, Dunlap went on a tear in which he had at least half a sack in every game all the way until the end of the season, including two games (Jets and Browns) with two sacks.
"It was kind of unreal, my first sack coming against Peyton, a quarterback I grew up watching," Dunlap said. "My friends were saying, 'How was it sacking the guy you used to have on video games?' I think my first sack coming against Peyton is a sign of the career I'm trying to have."
Dunlap's work ethic obviously carries over into other aspects of his life outside of the locker room or the football field and I'm excited that he has a plan after football. I think there are way too many athletes that receive that first massive check when they get drafted and believe that they'll keep receiving those checks forever. I'm glad Dunlap knows that's not the case.
What I'm most excited about, though, is watching Dunlap, with a season of experience under his belt, chase quarterbacks around in the back field while they run from him screaming and crying.
The 2011 NFL season can't get here soon enough.