Ex Patriots player returns to finish degree as an Owl

Hunter O. LyleSports Editor

After spending a decade in the National Football League, alumni and threetime Super Bowl champion Joe Andruzzi returned to Southern to finish his degree.

There has been a new trend throughout the world of professional sports and former professional athletes coming back to college to finish their degrees.

In the past years, major household names like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neil and Troy Polamalu have completed their degrees.

Along with Andruzzi, Southern has also had some other notable athletes come back to campus, such as former San Diego Chargers defensive end Jacques Cesaire and defensive tackle Ike Igbinosun, who played for multiple teams during his three-season tenure.

While some do it as a landmark in their careers while others return to college to explore another sector of business, Andruzzi said he wanted to earn his degree to help those in need.

“I love working with special needs children and adults. Not so much in the teacher aspect, but more or less in the homes and Special Olympics type of stuff,” said Andruzzi, who officially graduated with a degree in liberal arts with a concentration in wellness. “I love being a part of that and seeing the smiles on their faces. It goes a long way. It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of that whole world.”

Andruzzi attended Southern from 1993 to 1996, where he played for the football team. Eventually, he wound up on the Green Bay Packers roster as an undrafted free agent. Andruzzi spent three years with the Packers before leaving for the New England Patriots, where he won three championships alongside superstar quarterback Tom Brady.

Towards the end of his professional football career, Andruzzi’s life took an unsuspected turn that forced him out of the NFL.

“I ended differently than everybody else usually. I was diagnosed with cancer after ten years [in the NFL] and I was forced to battle for my life,” said Andruzzi. “It was pretty tough to go day in-and-day-out, very intense chemotherapy I was on.”

Andruzzi said he had been diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called Burkitt lymphoma.

According to the Lymphoma Research Foundation website, Burkitt lymphoma is an aggressive, fast-spreading cancer that can, “affect the jaw, central nervous system, bowel, kidneys, ovaries, or other organs.”

His battle with the disease forced the former lineman to spend over 50 days in the hospital on a brutal chemotherapy regiment. However, after entering remission, Andruzzi said he wanted to help people in similar situations.

“Since getting better, my wife and I started the Joe Andruzzi Foundation to help cancer patients and families with financial distress,” said Andruzzi.”

The Joe Andruzzi Foundation helps fundraise money for families as well as cancer research through events across New England, such as the 2019 Mount Desert Island Half Marathon taking place in Maine on Oct. 20.

Despite making it to the NFL and winning multiple titles, Andruzzi did not originally go to college to be an athlete.

“I promised my grandmother before she passed and my parents,” said Andruzzi. “I didn’t go to college for football. Football was the added bonus for me.”

Photo courtesy:  Jason Edwards

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