Photos of New Orleans Saints WR Kenny Stills from the 2013 season (New Orleans Saints photos)
Amid much pomp and circumstance last weekend, the New Orleans Saints were among the 32 NFL teams to unveil their 2014 rookie class, each player wide-eyed brimming with hope and confidence.
Amid several octaves less pomp and circumstance, the franchise also welcomed a 2014 graduate and another player who is one class shy of graduation, two veterans brimming with pride over his accomplishment.
Receivers Andy Tanner and Kenny Stills marked the milestone, NFL Draft weekend by graduating (Tanner) and climbing to within a whisker of graduation (Stills, with one class remaining).
Tanner, who completed his playing eligibility at Midwestern State in 2010, achieved his degree in accounting and said the accomplishment was fairly close to making an NFL team.
"I told my parents I'd get my degree," Tanner said. "(The accomplishments) are close. I couldn't tell you which one is above which, but they're very close.
"I take a lot of pride in it. When I set a goal and accomplish it, I have a lot of pride in it. Everybody said it'd be hard going back, and it definitely was. Every year that I was out of college, it was that much harder to go back. But I finally told myself, 'All right, you've got three semesters, go do it now and get it over with.'
"It takes a lot of discipline, and I learned that from football. Football is a lot more mental than people know. You have to learn this huge playbook – when I came down for rookie camp, they kind of throw it at you and it's learn on the go. It takes a lot of discipline in both aspects."
And Tanner said he might not be finished.
"I think I want to get my MBA (master of business administration), but that's further down the road," he said. "That's something I've been thinking about."
As for Stills, who entered the NFL Draft last year as a junior and was a fifth-round pick, he soon will pick up his degree in multidisciplinary studies from Oklahoma.
As a rookie, Stills led the NFL with a 20-yard average on 32 receptions, with five touchdowns. He made an immediate impression, showing the intelligence and ability to play all the receiver positions. He started 10 of 16 games in the regular season.
"It was something that was really important to my mom, and obviously it's important to me, to make sure I had a backup plan in case things didn't work out," Stills said. "So I enrolled online and just took care of the classes that I could while trying to focus on the football stuff as well.
"My adviser back in college pushed me and stayed on me about it, and it was important to me. I just wanted to make sure it was something that I got done, something that I could add to my resume just in case football didn't work out. I'd have my backup plan."
For Stills, it especially has been challenging, given that he was a rookie charged with the dual obligation of learning the Saints' offense.
"It was definitely tough, especially with all the assignments being online," he said. "Just making sure you're staying on top of when you have to turn things in, the reading and learning the playbook – it took a lot of good time management skills.
"I took some time off during training camp but once the season started going, (former Saints receiver) Lance (Moore) was doing it and he used to keep me motivated as well, because I saw that he was doing it. We have a lot of downtime during the season once we're done (with practice), so I'd get a few hours to get home and relax, eat dinner and get my studying done. That helped me stay focused and get it done.
"It's an accomplishment that I'm very proud of. It's one of those things that I had on my goals (list) and I get to scratch it off. It's an accomplishment that I've been looking forward to scratching off that list."