Quarterback Justin Fields and tight end Cole Kmet are expected to play significant roles for the Bears this season, but that's not all the two teammates have in common.
Both left college early to enter the NFL-Kmet in 2020 and Fields in 2021-but continued their studies and were presented with their undergraduate degrees at recent graduation ceremonies-May 7 for Fields at Ohio State and last Sunday for Kmet at Notre Dame.
"When I was 11 or 12, I made a promise to my dad that no matter what I did I would graduate, I would finish school," Fields said. "I thought it would be easier to knock it out now rather than going back later in life. I wanted to do that for my parents."
Fields left Ohio State following his junior year in 2021 but continued to take classes online each of the last two offseasons.
"It wasn't too difficult, just trying to knock it out in the offseason," he said. "Of course, when the season rolls around, [I'm] locked in on [football], but [it was] not too difficult."
Fields enjoyed celebrating his graduation with his family in Columbus.
"It was a cool feeling," he said. "It was really for my family, to be honest with you, so I'm glad I got to experience that moment with them."
May has been a banner month for the Fields family; Justin's sister, Jaiden Fields, graduated from Georgia May 12.
"It was a great two weeks for my family," said the Bears quarterback. "Everybody was excited."
Justin's father, Pablo, was thrilled to see his son fulfill his promise to graduate from college.
"I'm really proud of that, him keeping his word to me and realizing how much promises mean," Pablo said. "I hope that when and if he has kids, if he makes them a promise, he keeps it. I never made promises that I didn't keep, and if I made a promise, I kept it.
"It speaks volumes about our relationship and what I taught him earlier in life about promises and keeping them. We don't take that word lightly."
Kmet also promised a parent-his mother, Kandace-that he would earn his college degree.
"First, making the decision to go to Notre Dame, to get a degree there was one of the reasons I went there," Kmet said. "When I had the opportunity to leave early, that's one of the decisions that kind of made it difficult. I wanted to stay and finish out the degree. I promised my mom and made a promise to myself to go back and finish it."
Kmet estimates that he was about 36 credits short when he joined the Bears in 2020. He took a full load of classes in the offseason in 2021. After taking last spring off while learning a new offense, he took summer classes last year and spring classes this year. While the summer classes were online, the spring sessions were on campus in South Bend.
Kmet described participating in Notre Dame's graduation ceremony as "a really awesome moment" for himself and his family.
"It's taken a little while to get done, but I'm glad to have to done and glad to be a Notre Dame graduate," he said. "I think one day I'd like to have a family, and I think it's important if I have kids that they see their dad finished things out and stayed true to myself and set the example."
A third Bears player also graduated this spring, undrafted rookie linebacker Micah Baskerville at LSU.
Bears President and CEO Kevin Warren attended the graduation ceremonies for Fields and Kmet.
"Having the opportunity to witness both Justin and Cole graduate and receive their diplomas was incredibly special," Warren said. "Justin and Cole are strong, hard-working and incredibly talented men who are physically and mentally gifted. We are truly blessed to have both Justin and Cole as leaders of the Chicago Bears football team."
Coach Matt Eberflus commemorated the achievement by presenting game balls to Fields and Kmet at a team meeting this week.
"It's really an important accomplishment for those guys to be able to go back and do that and get their degrees," Eberflus said. "It's a good example for the other guys who haven't got their degrees yet. We certainly encourage those guys to do that but certainly congratulations to Justin and Cole."