PLYMOUTH, Mich. (AP) Don Carey quietly slipped into a classroom, finding an empty seat in the fifth and final row.
He was about an hour late, and even though the tardy was excused, Carey didn't waste any time settling in for his first of two classes at the Moody Theological Seminary after getting off the practice field with the Detroit Lions.
While most of his teammates and peers in the league were relaxing or going out for a night of fun on a recent Monday, Carey was pursuing a master's degree in theological studies with a focus on the Old Testament. The 28-year-old Carey, a sixth-year defensive back, joined a five-person group discussing a Biblical figure, Nehemiah, soon after his arrival. After standing in front of the class with two people from his group to share what the group talked about, Carey sat back down among 18 seminarians.
''C-A-R-E-Y,'' he said to a person in his small group.
That sealed his identity.
''I didn't know his last name,'' John Syverson, a 24-year-old classmate, said about an hour later. ''That gave me affirmation about who he is, and that he plays for the Lions. He has been just Don, a classmate. And, I think that's awesome.''
Carey has found a niche with the Lions as a key player on special teams, with 12 tackles - nearly double the total of any of his teammates. He started in 10 games and played in 15 as a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010 and then they cut him entering the next season. Several weeks later, the Lions signed him in what he recalls as a pivotal time in his life. Detroit released him in the summer of 2012, signed him later that year, and he has been with the franchise ever since. His three-year deal runs through 2016.
This season, he began sharing his thoughts on faith and football as a guest columnist with the Detroit Free Press.
Carey acknowledges he was not a pious player early in his career. The sixth-round pick from Norfolk State spent his Sunday and Monday nights back then like a lot of players in the league.
''A lot of guys would hang out those nights because Monday you just have to watch film and life and Tuesday you're off with a full day to recover,'' he said. ''I loved drinking cognac. I always had two bottles at home. One to display, and one to drink.''
During the 2011 season, he decided to change his ways.
''Prior to that, I consider those my partying, drinking days,'' Carey said.
Carey, who said he does enjoy a glass of wine these days, has impressed his teammates by backing up his talk of doing things differently with his classwork.
''There aren't too many people, if anyone, who do that in the NFL,'' Detroit cornerback Darius Slay said. ''He's got a wife and kids and a full-time job with the Lions. And, he still makes time to do that.''
Carey said he has earned 34 of 52 credits toward the degree without a definitive plan for what he's going to do with it.
''I'm trying to learn as much about my faith, the Old Testament specifically, as I can to gain a better understanding of it historically and in a cultural context,'' he said. ''As far as what's next, I have no clue. I just want to be prepared.''
One of his instructors, Micah Jelinek, was not within earshot to when Carey's classmate asked him to spell his name during one of the last classes of the semester. It did not, however, surprise him when he heard about it.
''I don't think most people in class have an awareness of what he does,'' Jelinek said. ''I think that shows you the kind of guy Don is. He's not here to bring attention to himself. He's here to study. I think that shows you the kind of guy Don is.''
After each Lions practice, defensive backs gather to hear parting thoughts from their two assistant coaches. Then, they hear from Carey, surrounded in a huddle by defensive backs and other teammates who choose to lean and listen in.
''He gives us some scripture every time,'' Slay said. ''He doesn't need any paper, or anything in front of him. He knows all the verses.''
Carey said doesn't prepare what he's going to say after practice, but chooses something from the Bible to share just before he speaks.
''I went with 2 Corinthians 5:17 today,'' he said following a recent practice before reciting the verse by memory again. ''Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here.''
Perhaps the same could be said of Carey.
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