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Dan Federkeil, was a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive lineman whose career was cut short by concussions. When football ended, he decided to go back to University at age 26 and finish his economics degree at the University of Calgary. He played offensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts for four seasons. (Chris Bolin/CHRIS BOLIN / for The Globe and)
Dan Federkeil, was a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive lineman whose career was cut short by concussions. When football ended, he decided to go back to University at age 26 and finish his economics degree at the University of Calgary. He played offensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts for four seasons. (Chris Bolin/CHRIS BOLIN / for The Globe and)

ALLAN MAKI

Dan Federkeil finishes what he started Add to ...

It's taken a while, this business of finishing his degree - 10 years from enrolment to the 2011 convocation ceremony at the University of Calgary on Wednesday.

In between, he's gone from 17 to manhood, from all-Canadian pass rusher to NFL pass blocker. He's played in U.S. stadiums jammed with humanity, started games for the Indianapolis Colts and even celebrated their Super Bowl win on a rainy night in Miami.

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He's also suffered serious injuries, a pair of concussions, one so debilitating it ended his career. And now after all those years and experiences, Dan Federkeil gets to finish what he started for himself, his family and most of all for his late mother.

"Did you promise your mom you'd complete your education?" Federkeil is asked.

"It wasn't a promise per se," he answered. "But it's definitely something she wanted me to do."

Maybe you remember him, maybe you don't. Either way, know this about Dan Federkeil: He's never been one to take the conventional route in anything he's done. His life has been a series of twists and turns, quirks and ironies, all of which have carried him full circle right back to the University of Calgary for the completion of his economics degree, at 27, no less.

It's been quite a run, he'll acknowledge, one that began when he told his parents he was going to Indianapolis to try out for the Colts in the summer of 2006. He was six classes shy of graduating. His folks understood it was too good a football opportunity to turn down; Federkeil assured them he could always return to school when football was done.

On paper, making the Colts looked like a long shot. Federkeil had been a 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive all-star with the Dinos when he was noticed by Colts scout Cal Murphy, who lives in Regina. The first thing Murphy said to Federkeil was, "You'll never make it in the NFL as a defensive end." The second thing was, "You could be an offensive lineman."

So Federkeil switched positions, impressed the Colts and was kept on their practice roster until Week 12 of the 2006 season, when he was elevated to the active roster and played on the field-goal and kick-off return team. That season, the Colts went on to the Super Bowl led by quarterback Peyton Manning. Federkeil took the pregame warm-ups, then watched his teammates defeat the Chicago Bears. Someone took a photo of Federkeil kissing the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the winners' dressing room after the game. His entire family was there. Everyone was over the moon.

Then things began to change. Federkeil's first major concussion had occurred at the University of Calgary. He blacked out for a few moments but was able to recover and play again. The second came in Week 9 of the 2007 NFL season. The Colts were playing host to the New England Patriots. Federkeil's two brothers, Mike and Rick, were in the stands. On the game's opening kickoff, Federkeil took a hit and suffered another loss of consciousness. It took five months for the headaches to go away.

Jump forward to Week 10 of the 2009 NFL season. The Colts were again playing at home against New England. Federkeil's brothers were again in the stands. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Federkeil took a hit and knew something was wrong. This time it was the after-effects of the blow that ended his season and ultimately his career.

"Driving home after the game, the halos around the lights were brighter. That was Sunday," Federkeil recalled. "At meetings on Wednesday, my head starts to hurt. I do a stress test and I don't get through the warm-up. My head is beating like a drum. I try it a second time a week later and it's the same. The coach says, 'We have to put you on injured reserve.'"

It was in November of 2008, in between Federkeil's twin concussions, that his mom, Judy, was diagnosed with cancer. She'd had melanoma when she was pregnant with Dan. For 26 years, she'd been free of the disease. But within two months of a second diagnosis, she was gone.

Federkeil married his university sweetheart, Shannon, shortly after his mom's death. Shannon works as a nurse in Calgary and last year, as her husband's post-concussion symptoms continued, she began talking to him about retirement.

"I'd had six months of headaches. I wasn't seeing drastic improvements," he said. "That's when I went, 'No more.' Teams were still calling. The [Toronto]Argos and [Calgary]Stamps were interested but I said no."

And so it was that Federkeil opted to go back to university and finish his degree. Turned out it was a win for all. "You place a motivated individual such as Dan in a class room and it shows how important getting a degree is," said Wayne Giles, the dean of the University of Calgary's kinesiology faculty. "That affects other students."

As for what comes next, Federkeil isn't sure. Having saved almost all the money he made in the NFL, he figures he has time to find the job that best suits him.

"I keep telling my wife I'm retired," he said with a wry laugh. "She keeps saying, 'I don't think so.'"

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

 

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