With two Super Bowl rings and a successful decade-long career in the NFL, Asante Samuel still had one more accomplishment on his wish list: to finish the credits needed to complete his college degree. The Atlanta Falcons corner back recently returned to his alma mater, the University of Central Florida, to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary studies with a minor in Sociology and Education.

Here, Samuel shares how he hopes his story will inspire a younger generation and how mentoring has been his way of giving back to his community.

ESSENCE: Was going back to school something that had been lingering ever since you were drafted from college 10 years ago?
SAMUEL: It started crossing my mind my sixth year in the league. I started doing my homework on it and went to attack it. When I first enrolled in college back in the day I was a business major. To make sure I could finish up this time around and make it fit my schedule I changed my major to Interdisciplinary studies and took online classes. So that made it easier for me. I didn’t take too many classes during the season. I would take one class during the season and load up more during the off-season so I could make sure I had more time.

ESSENCE: It’s not often that professional athletes go back to school. What motivated you?
SAMUEL: Being in the position I’m in and having children and wanting to show them that this is what it’s all about. Education is the most important thing and it can’t be taken from you. I wanted to let them know that if I can do it anyone can do it. It’s about being a role model and giving back.

ESSENCE: How did friends and fellow NFL players respond to you telling them that you were back in college?
SAMUEL: They were excited and this goes for the young NFL guys too. Me being a veteran in the league and showing those young guys that I’ve been in the NFL, made all sorts of money and I’m still going back to get my degree. I hope I can be that role model to inspire a lot of people to do the same.

ESSENCE: What would you like to do with the degree?
SAMUEL: I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but I got it just in case. I’d like to work with kids you know, to show them how to attack life and learn how to be successful.

ESSENCE: What did you learn about yourself by going back into that student mode?
SAMUEL: That it’s much harder than it used to be. I had to get reacquainted because I had been removed for so long. That was the main thing.

ESSENCE: What are some of the things you’d like young people to take away from your story?
SAMUEL: That education is important and that it’s a way of life. A lot of people say you don’t need education to be successful but it’s essential and very important to have that degree. It makes life much easier for you. I didn’t value education when I was growing up. It wasn’t only until I got older that I realized how important it is. Being a little knucklehead kid I did what I had to do back then. Now I know better. It’s opened up a new world for me. I recently started a foundation called Bring It Home Single Moms to empower single moms. Being that I grew up in a single parent home and didn’t have an adult male role model to keep me in line I had to learn on my own. As an adult I realized how much more I would have known if a male figure would have been on top of me to help me out, so it inspired me to want to do this.