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Raiders' Cherry Gets His Masters

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Oakland Raiders defensive back Je'Rod Cherry wasn't supposed to make it through high school, let alone earn a college degree. And certainly not an advanced degree.

But on Saturday he receives his master's in education from the University of California at Berkeley. Yep, Berkeley, the brainy school across San Francisco Bay.

Cherry joins an elite class of NFL players with advanced degrees: San Francisco quarterback Steve Young, law degree from Brigham Young; Atlanta linebacker Jeff Kelly, master's in juvenile probation from Kansas State; Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, master's in communications from Florida State; and Kansas City linebacker Donnie Edwards, master's in education administration from UCLA.

There are no official records of the number of players with advanced degrees. But the NFL says several more are working toward master's degrees, including Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Roman Oben, who is studying public administration at Farleigh Dickinson in New Jersey.

When he was in ninth grade, Cherry was barely scraping by in school.

``I struggled because I had that mentality,'' he said. ``I had that 2.0 mentality — as long as I have a 2.0, I'll be cool.''

But the promise of football, a smart girlfriend, and a good, hard look at his surroundings snapped him out of it.

``Growing up poor, I knew why I was poor and I didn't want to make the same mistakes,'' he said. ``My parents weren't educated, and they couldn't get jobs because of it. I didn't want that to happen to me.''

That was the end of the 2.0 mentality.

Cherry went on to graduate from Berkeley High School and attend Cal, where he starred in football and track. He earned an undergraduate degree in political science with a 3.2 grade-point average.

Cherry, 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, was drafted in the second round by the New Orleans Saints in 1996. In February, he signed with the Raiders as an unrestricted free agent.

During his years in New Orleans, Cherry attended Cal mostly through the Internet, keeping up with reading and class notes and sending his papers by e-mail.

UC Berkeley education professor Herbert Simons said it took four years for Cherry to complete his work, but he was resolute in his desire to finish.

``He's an incredibly determined student and he has incredible self-discipline,'' Simons said. ``He's just a dedicated student and a fantastic person.''

As for his grades? Simons said Cherry did ``very well.''

The well-spoken 26-year-old said he's not finished yet. He hopes to start work toward his Ph.D. soon — probably in history with an emphasis on African-American studies.

Some day, his teammates might be able to call him Dr. Cherry.

``There are things I want to do beyond football,'' he said.
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