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This week, many of the NFL’s gridiron warriors are tackling a challenge that they have never encountered before: Wharton classes.

Thirty-seven pro athletes are currently participating in the Wharton Sports Business Initiative’s (WSBI) four-day program, which began Tuesday and will end tomorrow.

Among the more notable players who will be hard at work are the Seattle Seahawks’ Deion Branch, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Farrior, and the Indianapolis Colts’ Donald Brown.

The Wharton sessions are part of the larger NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, an initiative which seeks to educate players and prepare them for careers after they hang up the cleats.

In a league where there are no guaranteed contracts and the average career length is just around three-and-a-half seasons, it is never too early to start thinking about the future.

It’s no wonder, then, that the program’s sessions are no joke.

In fact, the daily schedule would make even the most studious at Penn take a step back.

“It felt like training camp,” recalled free agent running back Vernand Morency, who first attended the program in 2007. “We wake up [at] 6:30, 7 o’clock, and you’re not done until … one o’clock in the morning.”

Ever the competitor, Morency could not get enough of the grind and decided to return to Penn’s campus in 2008 for a refresher.

The program began in 2005 at both Wharton and Harvard Business, but the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern and the Stanford Graduate School of Business have partnered in past years.

While each school’s program has its own focus — Wharton’s is entrepreneurship and real estate — the classes are quite comprehensive.

According to WSBI associate director and faculty member Mori Taheripour, players who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree can take what she calls “MBA Lite.”

One player with such an interest was Richard Scanlon.

After attending the Wharton sessions in 2009 — and after five seasons as a linebacker in the NFL — Scanlon is now enrolled as a first-year MBA at Wharton.

And Scanlon isn’t the only program alum making his footprint in the business world.

Hardy Nickerson, a five-time Pro Bowler during his 16 seasons and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Defensive Team (1990s), was a member of Wharton’s star-studded inaugural class which included none other than Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees.

Looking back on his short time at Penn, Nickerson remembers scribbling notes as fast as he could and some “sound advice” from Real Estate professor Peter Linneman.

“Never ever ever invest in restaurants, bars or nightclubs,” Nickerson recalled with a laugh.

While the players have to absorb so much in such a short span, such lessons can pay huge dividends over the years.

Nickerson now runs a real estate business with his wife, and Morency currently has a project he’s working on in the D.C. area.

And while these alums may be doing big things, they still appreciate the program that helped pave their way to success.

“I had a phenomenal time,” Morency said. “One of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”

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