During Dontrelle Inman's first full NFL season in 2014, he noticed his former San Diego teammate Donald Brown studying on the flight to an away game. But he was not watching film or going over the playbook.
"I would see Donald on the plane reading books and doing his assignments, so I walked up to him and said, 'Hey, what are you doing?'
"He's like, 'I'm doing my MBA.'"
The next summer, Inman started working towards his own masters of business administration degree from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. He's been taking classes ever since.
"Just thinking about life after football," said Inman, who signed with the Washington Football Team on Aug. 4. "I have a lot of mentors, and they all have their MBA. ...It puts you in rooms and doors that you could never think about without having that, and the connections that you're able to have...through your alumni association. It helps you tremendously once you're done with football or any sport."
Inman enrolled in two classes during the summer of 2015, which ended up being too difficult with training camp and the preseason. So, from that point on, he planned to take one class per offseason. He skipped an offseason for various reasons, but he made up for it by taking two classes another offseason.
If he retired today, Inman said he could complete his degree in about a year.
That's the beauty of the post-graduate programs available through the NFL Players Association. There's no deadline for current and former players to complete their degrees, and all of the classes, which are online, are fully reimbursed by the NFLPA.
"[Tress Way and Shaun Dion Hamilton] asked how tough was the program, and they thought you had to take the program and if you didn't consistently take it you would be kicked out," Inman said. "And I was like, 'No, it's a program strictly catered for you. If you need to take a year off, you can come back and take a class. If you want to take classes during the season, take two, three semesters off, you can do so. It's definitely catered towards the NFL.'"
Another one of Inman's teammates, defensive end Nate Orchard, had been thinking about applying to business school for the past couple of years but had been putting it off for one reason or another. Then the novel coronavirus hit, giving Orchard more time to reflect and look towards the future. Orchard, who entered the NFL in 2015, decided it was time to stop making excuses, so he filled out the application, wrote his essay and gathered the necessary letters of recommendation.
On Aug. 21, he received an acceptance letter from the UNC Kenan–Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"I'm the first generation to graduate high school, the first in my family to graduate from college," Orchard said. "And now, this opportunity to get an MBA, I really want to set that standard for most importantly my kids, letting them know that education is important and that it's good to do hard things, especially now with me being in the league still and having to balance football and school and family. It's all part of trying to better yourself in any way that you can."
Orchard, who received his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Utah, is not sure exactly what he will do with his MBA, but he has spent the past few years expanding his business horizons. During the 2018 offseason, he helped out as a project manager for a construction company in Salt Lake City. After the 2019 campaign, he completed an internship with Morgan Stanley in their wealth management department.
Orchard recently enrolled in his first class, analytical tools, which begins at the end of the September, and he'll then attempt to take as many classes as he can handle next spring and summer.
With the program consisting of 62 credit hours and two in-person summits, he doubts he'll finish in two years like full-time students. That's perfectly fine with Orchard, though, as he plans to complete the degree at his own pace.
"Dontrelle Inman is doing the same thing," Orchard said. "So just asking him questions -- he's a vet in this game -- and seeing how he approached it and he manages it is just the biggest thing. He said it's doable; you just have to commit to it and each day knock it out and make the most of the opportunity."
A 2010 graduate of the University of Virginia, Inman has clearer business interests. He's currently a real estate investor and has invested in other businesses. When his football career ends, he intends to get into financial literacy so that he can educate current and former players on the importance of finances.
For now, Inman is focused on how he can help quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. and the rest of Washington's offense this fall. The 31-year-old has by far the most experience of any wide receiver, and he has been working with the starters throughout training camp.
But he also understands how quickly things can change. That's why he's decided to pursue his MBA in the first place, and having that degree will be extremely valuable whenever he completes the transitions from a football player to a businessman.
"Take time to start planning now," Inman said. "It doesn't hurt to plan three, four, five years ahead for the future. If you're prepared when you leave the league, that's a much easier transition than you trying to scramble once you get out of the league because you're just a play away from injury to be honest."