FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It has been said that playing for the New England Patriots under coach Bill Belichick is like earning an advanced degree in football. For kicker Stephen Gostkowski and a couple of teammates, they have taken the education theme one step further.
They're not far off from earning a master of business administration degree.
"When you have little kids, and you're in this environment, you're sort of doing the same thing over and over again. So I was looking for something that would challenge me and something that would obviously help me going into the future," said the 34-year-old Gostkowski, who is the second-longest tenured player on the team.
"These seasons, they pile on back to back, and it's kind of nice to have something different to put your time and energy into it for a little bit."
Even better for Gostkowski and third-year offensive linemen Ted Karras and Joe Thuney, the classes they are taking through Indiana University are fully reimbursed through the NFL Players Association. All the work is online, and all three players do it only in the offseason.
"Some of the classes can be extremely hard, some of them aren't that bad," said Gostkowski, who majored in exercise and sport science at the University of Memphis.
"You have to work with other people, all throughout the United States, and some people from other countries, on group projects. They kind of set it up that way, because if you get a job in the real business world, you have to work with a bunch of people. So you have to make sure your time will match up with everyone else's and that can be the most challenging thing, finding a good time that works for everybody.
"When the season is over with, I'm pretty much a stay-at-home dad and I can carve out a couple hours a day to read."
Gostkowski takes one class each offseason and is about 50 percent toward earning the MBA. Karras and Thuney are taking two classes each offseason.
Thuney, a 2016 third-round draft choice out of NC State, recalled first hearing about the opportunity to earn the degree at rookie minicamp.
"It seemed almost too good to be true, that they would refund your payments. Why wouldn't you want to take advantage of this? Football isn't going to last forever," he said. "I'm two years in, chipping away at that. It's a long process and going well. It's interesting stuff."
Thuney, whose classes have included statistics, marketing, and economics, among others, had majored in accounting and minored in Spanish at NC State. He's also nine credit hours away from earning a second degree in international studies, but since those could only be earned by studying abroad and his football commitments restricted him from doing so, he plans to follow through on that after his NFL career.
He and Karras began their first MBA class one week after the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
"I don't really know what I want to do, but I've already learned so much," Karras said. "You hear people say, 'I want to go into business,' but what does that mean? I'm hoping it illuminates along the way. ... Education is the biggest chunk of debt we have right now in my generation and to have an opportunity to get a third degree with no debt is pretty special, so I couldn't pass it up."
Karras earned his undergraduate degree at Illinois in communications, before getting a master's degree in recreation, sport and tourism. He plans to pursue a fourth degree when his playing days are over.
The opportunity to pursue the MBA is one example of what Gostkowski points to as players having excellent benefits.
"They have every opportunity for people to set themselves up post-playing -- to further your education. You're never too old to learn something," he said. "I thought it would maybe steer me maybe toward wanting to go into business or maybe steer me away from it -- I could find out if it's something I want to get into. I don't know yet. But I think having a general sense of business can't hurt anybody.
"One thing I would say: I don't think I'm going to be heading to Wall Street any time soon. I think I'll look for a less stressful job, since mine is pretty stressful as it is."