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When running back James White left Wisconsin for the NFL in 2014, his parents made something clear: He should still earn his college degree.

“Every offseason, [my mom] and my dad would always ask if I was taking classes and when I was going to get it done,” White said Tuesday afternoon.

Even as White’s football career took off — he’s won three Super Bowls and been named a Patriots captain — his parents regularly reminded him of the importance of completing his education. And as White’s family grew — he now has two kids with his wife, Diana — his parents told him the pursuit was only going to become more difficult with time.


Last spring, White finally made the decision to start taking classes again. But he elected not to tell his parents. Instead, he developed a plan to secretly finish his graduation requirements and then surprise his parents with the diploma.

Everything changed in September, when White’s parents were involved in a car crash that killed his father, Tyrone, and left his mother, Lisa, in critical condition.

According to White, Lisa is still recovering, but progressing.

“She’s continuing to do better,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a long process. I’m sure there’s a lot that runs through her mind that she may not necessarily tell me. But I know she’s a fighter, that’s for sure. Every day, she will continue to do better and better.”

Following the accident, White decided to tell his mother about his plan to finish his undergraduate studies. The news brought a smile to her face.

“She definitely started clapping her hands and was excited that I was actually doing it,” he said.

As a result of the pandemic, White was able to complete his final course virtually instead of returning to campus, which eased the process.


Although he was unable to attend Wisconsin’s graduation ceremony this past Saturday, White now has a degree in life sciences communication.

“It means a lot,” White said. “I’m happy my wife and my parents kept me motivated to finish it.”

After testing free agency this offseason, White returned to the Patriots on a one-year, fully guaranteed contract worth $2.5 million.

“It’s good to be back, to be with familiar faces and guys that I know,” he said.

There was some buzz that White may be headed to Tampa Bay to join former teammates Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, but White would not elaborate much on how close that was to becoming a reality.

James White has been with the Patriots since 2014.
James White has been with the Patriots since 2014.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“Free agency is really strange, honestly,” he said. “Day to day, everything kind of changes a little bit. Some days, a team may have interest. The next day, they may not.”

Entering his eighth season in New England, White stressed that the Patriots were in the mix “the whole time” and that he’s happy to be back.

“Each year I have the opportunity to play, I don’t take it for granted,” he said. “I just try and use every day, whether it’s working out in the offseason or working out at the facility and practicing, just attacking it with a good attitude and putting my best foot forward every day.”

Circle the date

The NFL schedule will be announced Wednesday at 8 p.m. There is heightened anticipation surrounding multiple dates, but none perhaps more than Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium with the Buccaneers.


In addition to the Bucs, the Patriots will host the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, and Tennessee Titans.

They will also travel to face their divisional foes, along with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, and Indianapolis Colts.

Sherman, Nixon on board

The Patriots announced the signing of a pair of draft picks, offensive lineman Will Sherman , a sixth-round pick out of Colorado, and wide receiver Tre Nixon, a seventh-rounder from UCF. Terms were not announced.

Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.