Vikings middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley left the University of South Carolina one class short of earning his degree.
Brinkley wanted to return to school after his rookie season but the Vikings advanced to the NFC Championship game so that made it impossible. But with the NFL headed toward a lockout this offseason, Brinkley figured the time was right to return to school and get his degree.
"I wanted to take advantage of the extra time that I had," Brinkley said. "It was always something that I felt like was hanging over my head and I wanted to get it done. The lockout gave me the opportunity."
Brinkley accomplished his goal when he graduated last weekend with a degree in African-American Studies with a concentration in social work. Brinkley took part in the graduation ceremony held in South Carolina's basketball arena.
"It means a lot for the simple fact that when I left [school] I left with a goal to not only be able to live my dream of playing in the National Football League but at the same time be able to come back and finish up my degree," he said. "A lot of guys go to college and getting their degree is not their main objective, but it was one of mine. It was one of my goals that I was able to reach and hopefully I'll continue to reach the other goals that I have set."
Brinkley said he is the first member of his family to earn a four-year degree and about 15 family members and close friends attended the ceremony.
"A lot of the fans cheered and told me how proud of me they were," he said.
Brinkley has returned to the Twin Cities to train during the lockout. Coach Leslie Frazier said this offseason that he hopes to get Brinkley on the field more next season, but it's unclear how that will work because E.J. Henderson plays almost every snap.
"Coach Frazier always lets me know that my time is coming and just be patient," Brinkley said. "I know my time is coming. When it presents itself, just be ready."
Brinkley said he continues to learn from Henderson and that improving his pass coverage skills remains an emphasis during offseason workouts.
"Yeah because you always want to work on your weaknesses," Brinkley said. "That’s one thing that I feel I’ve gotten better at. Coach Frazier could probably tell you that I definitely got better at it last year. I just want to continue to work at it."