"This is for life — can't take this from me." – Nickell Robey-Coleman on promises, graduation, and real estate

A couple weeks ago, the nation saw a celebration for Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.

In the video posted to Twitter by the Rams official account, head coach Sean McVay tells the team huddled around him that the club always is looking to celebrate the accomplishments of those in the organization. Then he announces who the club is celebrating on this particular day.

Later that night, the video would lead SportsCenter, with host Scott Van Pelt terming it the “Best thing I saw Today.”

“It surprised me. I didn’t think it would blow up like it did,” Robey-Coleman said of his celebration in a recent interview with therams.com. “At first I thought it was somebody’s birthday — because I saw balloons and all that, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s somebody’s birthday today.’ So I’m looking around like, ‘Whose birthday is it today?’ Whatever, like that. And then coach McVay was like, ‘We’re always happy when somebody has great things going on’ and all that good stuff.

“And then he said my name and I was like, ‘Oh, me? Me? I’m that guy?’” Robey-Coleman continued with a laugh. “But it really made me feel special. It made me feel good from the standpoint of, my hard work didn’t go unnoticed. My hard work didn’t go unnoticed. They actually see what’s going on.

“It was just a cool feeling. Coach McVay showed me love on that and the Rams organization showed me love on that. So that meant a lot to me. That was special.”

While Robey-Coleman may be more notoriously known across the country now for one play in one singular game, he’s so much more than that. The USC graduate earned his degree in policy, planning, and development — specializing in real estate development. He already owns eight properties, residential and student housing spread out across Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri.

“Great locations,” he said. “I’m part-owner, so there’s other owners as well. But the way it’s set up and everything, it’s legit.”

But what’s particularly notable about Robey-Coleman’s journey to graduation is how he made it happen while becoming one of the best slot corners in the league.

He explains it all in the following interview with therams.com.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Myles Simmons: First of all, congratulations on your recent graduation. What was it like for you to walk across the stage at USC?

Nickell Robey-Coleman: Yeah, walking across the stage — that was an amazing feeling. I was so happy. My classmates were happy for me. They found out my story — they heard my story. It was just a relief off my shoulders. My family was happy. It was definitely something to definitely keep, and also hope for the future — as far as from a degree standpoint. And I’m just extremely blessed and grateful.

MS: Many people might be familiar with it, but you mentioned your story — what is the story of you going back and getting your degree?

NRC: Yeah, basically I made a promise to my mom — I was going to go back and get my degree. It was a situation where I was going to college and then she ended up passing away when I signed to USC. So when I signed, a couple weeks later she passed away — that’s when it really became important to me to go to school and finish and get my degree.

If it wasn’t for that, I know it would’ve been extremely tough going back and getting my degree, and going to school, and all that bit. But I actually sacrificed, and made it my duty to go to school and actually go in the classrooms, and study, and take exams, and actually finish and get my degree — because at USC they don’t let you take online classes. So you’ve got to go inside the classroom.

MS: As a professional athlete, how much of a time commitment is that?

NRC: Yes, it’s a huge time commitment and you have to manage your time well. One thing about going back to school, there is no real traveling or no real relaxation time in the offseason. You’ve got to really study. Then you’re getting pulled from other directions, doing other things as well — other life things. So it was definitely a commitment as far as time. I wanted to do other things, but I couldn’t because I had to stay and go to school. And I couldn’t be with my friends or any of my teammates as much as I wanted to be because of school, and having time for only tests, and readings, and stuff like that. So it’s definitely a time crunch.

MS: When you’re in those classroom settings, especially as you’ve become more well-known as an NFL player, do fellow students know who you are?

NRC: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah. And it’s kind of funny because you’ll be in class and everybody knows who you are, but everybody’s just corner-eyeing you. Or some people are bold and they’ll just come up to you like, ‘Hey Nickell, how ya doing?’ And it’s cool — I like when people treat me more like that. But the people who are actually nervous or they see me but they’re kind of probably scared or nervous to say something — I just try to break the ice by speaking up in class, letting them know that I’m still human. I’m a player, I’m a professional, but I’m also a student as well at that time. So the more they got comfortable with me, the more people were talking. And everybody asked me about the Saints game, everybody asked me about the Super Bowl — so real questions started to pop out after they got pretty familiar with me.

MS: What did you get your degree in and why did you want to go into that course of study?

NRC: Yes, my degree is in policy, planning, and development, and inside of that is real estate development. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do. I signed up for it from Day 1 when I enrolled at USC. So what I did was, before I picked my degree field, I looked up the top 25 Billionaires. And at that time — in 2010, 2011 — the top 25 billionaires had their hands in real estate development. They didn’t all get their degree in it, but that’s what they were doing. So I was like, well I’m going for real estate development.

And it just so happened that when I asked my academic advisor, “Does USC have anything in real estate or business?” He said, “We just started a program with the real estate school at USC — which is uncommon in other schools.” So I was just like, perfect, I want to go for that.

It was tough, it was strenuous. There’s a lot of math, finance, statistics, stuff like that. And at first, I thought, “Man, I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. I’ve got too much dip on my chip.” But then I started just communicating with people, just asking questions more, and actually getting involved — going to office hours with the professors. And then once I got ahold of the whole synopsis of the program at USC, it became easier for me and I was like, “OK, got it, so this is the stuff that I’ll be doing when I’m done with football. Or I could do it now.” So once I got that, real estate became really fun for me. Once you get past the math part and all that, and actually get into the real meat and potatoes — like the land, and commercial real estate, and residential real estate — that’s when it got fun. So as time went on, the more fun my courses got.

MS: You own properties already, so how were you able to use your studies to acquire them?

NRC: It’s mostly the language. For instance, I’ve got eight properties. And before I even decided to be part owner in those properties, you’ve got to look at an analysis — a whole analysis, a pro forma. And at USC, that’s what they taught us to do. So once the real estate guys were talking to me about these certain properties, I already kind of knew what was going on like with cap rates, how much something costs, how much something going to be worth in the future — I was already on that.

And once I started speaking their jargon, they were like, “Oh, you’re already used to this.” I was like, Yeah, I do real estate at USC. So they were like, “Oh, OK, you know it” — stuff like that. That’s where it became real cool because we were skipping over things that weren’t as important that they would explain. We were actually getting to the real part of the business deal instead of just taking progressive steps, because I was already past that. And that’s where my degree came in — I was like, thank God I took this. Because I don’t think any regular person — when they look at that, a pro forma or analysis will really understand it. They’re gonna be like, “OK, that’s cool,” and move on.

MS: It sounds like they were talking to you like an average professional athlete instead of a real estate developer.

NRC: Right, right exactly. And once I started speaking like a real estate developer, they were just like, “Oh, OK, he’s on it. We don’t have to do all the small talk.” And I was just like, yeah, basically I’m 10 steps ahead, low key. So that’s when they’d tell me well, this is the property and this is how many units you have and this is what it is, this is the cap rate. And I’d literally just break it down myself, and if it looks good to me, I’ll OK it. And if I have questions, I’ll ask questions and they’re open to answering anything I have.

Check out photos of the Los Angeles Rams on the field for day two of OTAs.

MS: So when you’re going through all of this — taking classes, acquiring properties — how much was the promise you made to your mother on your mind?

NRC: That’s like 90 percent, almost 100. Because if it weren’t for her, really — I know if she was alive today, she’d probably still be beating me in the head, telling me to go to school after the season. And I’d be like, “Imma go to school,” and probably wouldn’t go to school. But the way things happened really gave me the reason to get up in the morning and actually go to school.

Seriously — if it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be going to school that much at all. If not at all. So she played a huge part in me going to school. And I thank God that I did finish because the stuff that I need to know was at USC in those classrooms. So I really thank God for her for actually putting that bug in my ear and telling me to go to school. But when she passed away, that’s when it really got serious and I said, “I’m gonna do it.”

MS: How much were you thinking about your mom during your graduation ceremony?

NRC: Oh, the whole ceremony. The whole ceremony I was just like, “Wow. What if she were in the flesh looking at this?" I think she would probably pass out. You know, my mom was real big on education, and she was real big on religion. And those were the two things she loved, was religion and education. Those were her focal points growing up in her household.

MS: Have your teammates had any reaction to you getting a degree?

NRC: There’s more talk about school in the locker room than I’ve probably ever heard in my career. Guys actually now are thinking about actually going to finish. A few guys on the team, they were like, “Man, I’ve only got a semester left.” I was like, “Man, get that done. That’s easy — get that done.” I had to do four semesters to finish mine! So I was like, man one semester — go ahead and get it done. And you can do it online. Just encouraging them the same way they were encouraging me. And they’re like, “Man, I’m gonna get it done, I’m gonna get it done.”

I know we don’t have the same motivations and everything like that. But man, getting that degree, it’s only going to add value. It’s only going to add value to you — that’s it. It’s not making you any worse of a person than you already are.

MS: When McVay brings out the cake and has that celebration, that seems very in character for him, just in terms of setting the tone for congratulating members of the team for things people might not notice. Is that meaningful for you?

NRC: Definitely, because coaches aren’t doing that right now. NFL coaches around the league, they’re probably not really worried about if you go to school or not. Coaches care about their jobs and what they’re doing, and they go about their day. They’ll congratulate you, I’m pretty sure. But it won’t be to the extent that McVay did. McVay actually showed love, like, ‘Hey, I see it. Keep doing it. Keep it up.’ That’s big stuff. So coming from your head coach and getting that type of love or advice from your coach, it’s huge. It’s bigger than big — that’s life. That’s something that you can’t just look over, so that stays with me.

Bringing everyone in to end homelessness. The Rams and United Way of Greater Los Angeles raise awareness to end homelessness in the 12th annual HomeWalk walk/run 5k.