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January 24, 2013
For Ben Jones and Orson Charles, a promise to mom is one you should always keep.
So, while the majority of their teammates with the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals are busy recuperating following the long grind of the recently completed NFL season, these two former Bulldogs are back in Athens making their mothers proud - by coming back to school.
"I made a promise that I'd come back to my mom," Charles said Thursday. "You can chase your dream, but make sure you get your degree. They can take the NFL away from you, but they can't take that degree."
By taking 15 hours this semester, Charles is cramming in just as much as he can before mini-camp begins in April.
Ditto for Jones.
"I definitely wanted to come back and finish up as much as I could. I'm taking 10 hours right now and the only thing I'll have left is my student teaching," Jones said. "That's one thing, my mom wanted me to finish and I've done it for this long, I'm used to going to class so I might as well stay in that routine instead of taking off another year."
Jones and Charles aren't the only former Bulldogs who have come back to put more time toward their respective degrees.
Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh - currently in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl - is also back taking classes, as is former Bulldog Rennie Curran, who is rooming with Charles while in Athens. Cornerback Brandon Boykin, meanwhile, is taking online classes to finish his degree.
"I definitely feel like a student taking 15 hours," Charles laughed. "It's something different, something I've got to get adjusted to."
Life in the NFL took some adjusting as well.
For Jones, that meant going from a position he played for four years at Georgia - center - to right guard, a spot he had not played since high school.
"It's definitely different because I really didn't take any reps at guard until Week 1. They (Houston coaches) were like 'Hey, you're going to be the swing guy between guard and center,'" and I was like 'OK,'" Jones said. "In the NFL you only dress seven linemen, where in college you might dress 12. All the camp, all the preseason, I was the backup center. That's all I did. Then Week 2 they told me I was going to take reps at right every other series from here on out."
Next year, Jones figures to be a fixture on the offensive line for the Texans, who beat Charles' Cincinnati squad in the Wild Card round19-13 before losing to New England in the Divisionals.
Although he was obviously busy with his duties with the Texans, Jones said he still kept close tabs on the teammates he left behind in Athens, particularly those members on the offensive line.
Jones paid particular attention to protege David Andrews, who took over the starting role at center as a sophomore last fall.
"He definitely grew up a lot. I know his freshman year he was really up under my wing. He would always ask me questions and that carried over to this year. But he definitely stepped up and took over that role," Jones said. "I told him the O-line needs a leader and you're at that spot, you're making all the calls, so it's easy for you to step in and be the leader. He would lean on me, he'd say how do I get this across to the guys when everybody wants to lead. I just said 'Hey, you've got to put your foot down and he's done a good job of doing that and it showed. They were one play away from going to the national championship."
Speaking of Georgia's loss to Alabama at the Georgia Dome, Jones said he felt the Bulldogs'pain after falling five yards shy of a trip to Miami for the BCS Championship.
"I was watching and they were up by three when I had to go to my meetings, so I missed like the last six minutes of the game. It was hard. I was sitting in the meeting, my phone started vibrating and my first text was "Roll Tide" from my uncle," said Jones, an Alabama native. "It hurt me because that's your bragging rights. Once you leave, that's your thing, I'd come in with my Georgia stuff, I'd wear red and black. I'd have my Georgia belt on so everybody knew who I was representing every week."
Charles watched the game with an interested eye, too.
The Tampa native would have played in the game himself had he decided not to leave Georgia following his junior year."It crossed my mind, but at the end of the day I'm happy," Charles said. "I was given an opportunity to chase my dreams and I'm chasing them right now. I'm happy for Artie (Lynch) and Jay Rome for succeeding, like I knew they would."
But Charles admits he's not without regrets.
He greatly regrets his arrest for DUI last spring, something he admits he had to overcome. He hopes others will learn from his mistake.
"I'll tell these guys, don't do like me. I made a mistake before the draft," Charles said. "I'll tell them to out and grind, work on your form, work on your drills and keep your nose clean because after you get drafted, the real work starts."
Charles, who caught eight passes for 101 yards his rookie year is also a firm believer in things happen for a reason.
"I learned from that situation, and it's like my mentor tells me, it's not how you start but how you finish," he said. "I'm definitely grateful to the Bengals for taking a chance on me. I have absolutely no complaints. I'm happy; I'm in the NFL. A lot of people don't get that chance."