As Matt Elam cleaned out his locker at the conclusion of the 2013 season, he knew a big change was ahead of him.
He traded in his cleats and shoulder pads for a backpack and textbooks, quickly making the transition from NFL safety to college student after re-enrolling at the University of Florida to continue working towards his degree in Anthropology.
"It's just a shift in focus," Elam said. "I'll probably just try to leave the football part for a little bit and just focus on school to get my mind right."
Elam, 22, declared for the NFL draft early after spending three years at Florida. He knew he was likely to be a first-round pick, and the Ravens ended up taking him with the No. 32 overall selection.
When Elam made the decision to leave school early, he made a promise to his mother that he would still finish his degree. He is about 20 credits shy of a bachelor's degree, and he plans to take spring courses at Florida the next two years to complete the program.
"One reason I'm going back is my mom. I promised her I was going to go back," Elam said. "The other thing is that I feel like a degree from Florida is a big-time deal."
Elam isn't the only Ravens' rookie going back to school over the summer. Most of the players who didn't finish their degrees before entering the NFL are all back in class this offseason, including fullback Kyle Juszyzyk (Harvard), wide receiver Marlon Brown (Georgia), outside linebacker John Simon (Ohio State), and wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard (Towson).
Part of Elam's reasoning to go back to school was that he learned during his rookie season that life in the NFL is fleeting. Players can make millions over a short period of time, but the average career of an NFL player is still just about three years, and having a degree is important once playing days are done.
"I've seen this is a business," he said. "In this business, you need a degree because you can be gone the next day."
Now Elam is back in Florida for the next few months before the Ravens begin voluntary workouts in April, and it's a different atmosphere from the last time he walked through Florida's campus as a full-time student more than a year ago.
"I'm expecting people to treat me a little differently," he said. "I know people will treat me differently – positively and negatively."