Right on message

When rookie linebacker Jonathan Bostic lines up in his first NFL start Sunday, it will be with the same hope Chicago Bears fans have for him of a long and fruitful pro career. But it will also be with the firsthand knowledge that the NFL does not always hand you everything you hope for.

If Bostic somehow forgets, his dad John, a former defensive back for the Detroit Lions in the mid-'80s, and his mother Jacqueline, a resource teacher for the Palm Beach County (Fla.) school district, will quickly remind him.

Both have doctoral degrees -- John's in pharmacy and Jacqueline's in educational leadership -- and for their oldest of three children, leaving the University of Florida without a diploma was not an option. Bostic, a second-round pick of the Bears in April, said he intends to return to school for his master's.

"He had to [finish] school, he had no choice," John Bostic said with a laugh. "Education is so important, and we don't want him to look back and ask 'Did I miss anything? Did I need to do anything else?' That's when guys get in trouble. He's already a good person, a great teammate and football player. We really wanted him to be a great citizen, and he's on his way. We just didn't want him to have any regrets."

It is not likely his son missed the message.

As a 5-foot-10, 176-pound sixth-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs out of Bethune-Cookman in 1985, the senior Bostic was well aware of the odds against him even catching on in the NFL.

"That's one thing my dad taught me growing up," recalled Jonathan, who will start at middle linebacker for the Bears against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, following the season-ending injury to D.J. Williams. "He used to say the day you step in is the day they're trying to replace you. You have to keep thinking about life after football, make sure you're taking care of your money. You just never know when it will be your last play."

John Bostic made it two and a half seasons in the NFL before a knee injury ended his career. But that wasn't the hardest part, he said.

"My goal when I went to the NFL was to play four years, retire, get my pension and go to med school," John Bostic said. "When my body couldn't do it anymore, I wasn't necessarily prepared for it, but I knew I had more brains than physical talents.

"What I was not fully prepared for was when the phone stops ringing. You make a phone call to, say, one of your old teammates and the first thing they think is that you need money, so they won't answer or return phone calls. I wasn't prepared for that."

He also was not prepared for the fact that after three years off from college, he did not feel ready for medical school. Jacqueline, his girlfriend at the time, encouraged him to teach and so he returned to the middle school in his hometown of Titusville, Fla., taught biology and coached the JV team at his alma mater, Astronaut High School.

"I always loved learning, I always loved going to school, but kids today aren't necessarily like that and I got headaches because I tried too hard. I decided to go to pharmacy school, and I haven't looked back since," said Bostic, who works for the health care district of Palm Beach.

Jonathan graduated from Florida with a degree in health education and said he is still interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy. He said he often talks to teammates like Williams and fellow rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene about making wise investments.

"It's a blessing he's had the opportunity to play in the NFL," said Jacqueline Bostic, "but prior to that, these are all things he wanted to pursue."

Joining the rich tradition of Bears linebackers was also something that excited Bostic, although he already had one tie to the franchise. John Bostic was a teammate of Wilber Marshall's from eighth grade through high school (Cris Collinsworth was a senior when the two were freshmen) and still calls the former Bears linebacker and member of the 1985 Super Bowl team "a good buddy." Like Jonathan, Marshall, who won a second Super Bowl title with the '91 Redskins, also starred at Florida.

"One in a million athletes of this caliber come around, and we just happened to have two at our high school," John Bostic recalled. "Cris was the one who set the bar and Wilber jumped over the bar. Both ran a 10.2 100-yard dash [Cris won the Florida state championship].

"Jonathan was not too familiar with Cris, but Wilber has talked to him on quite a number of occasions. Any time Wilber visited the University of Florida, he always made it a point to talk to Jonathan so they have a friendship together. They can talk linebacker stuff and I can't."

Jonathan Bostic, who played almost as much defensive back in his career as linebacker, showed off those skills with his interception and 51-yard return of a Cam Newton pass for a touchdown in the Bears' preseason-opening loss to Carolina.

"I got rid of [the defensive back] mentality a long time ago," Jonathan said, "but it definitely helps out a lot in the coverage aspect, different ways receivers and tight ends think, and knowing the things they don't like. You might switch your leverage in the middle of covering them so it freezes them, so in different ways it has helped me."

Football was not the only sport in which Bostic excelled. As a kid, he played basketball, track, baseball, even hockey (after the family moved from Atlanta to Wellington, Fla., where they still live).

"I played hockey for two, three years," he said. "I'd play anything that had a ball. I just liked to compete. I'm not someone who's going to go out and lay down. I'm going to play to the end."

Jonathan is not the only athlete among his siblings. Sister Jayla, 20, a junior at Florida, went to college on an academic and athletic scholarship and had two top-five performances at last season's SEC Championships in the women's weight throw. Justin Bostic, 9, also plays linebacker like his big brother.

John Bostic said he sees his son becoming a coach after his football career is over.

"A lot of people don't talk to him about X's and O's but he really knows his stuff," John said. "He enjoys breaking it down to find out how something works. He always had that mentality of knowing how things work and how you stop it from working. He just really enjoys that."

It could come in particularly handy on Sunday against the Redskins.

"As a rookie, he's going to keep his mouth shut but he'll bring stuff to the table," John said. "Like the zone read [option] [Robert Griffin III] runs, probably not too many guys on the [Bears] have played against that as much as Jonathan has."

It started in practice against Tim Tebow and the Gators' offense.

"With Coach Meyer, that was his thing," Jonathan said. "He was a spread coach so we were seeing that pretty much every day for two years. And then really every team we played had zone-read concepts. It's something I'm pretty familiar with."

Bostic is just starting his NFL career, but one way or another, he said he will likely work with kids one day.

"I am definitely interested in helping kids in inner cities," he said. "You see some of these kids who don't believe they have a way out. I just want to help them see there are many ways out."

As with most things, he learned that lesson from his parents.

"It's all about giving back to the world," John Bostic said. "It's his duty to bring the next generation along, teach them what he knows about football, what he knows about life and what he did to get from Point A to Point B. He has a responsibility, he really does."