GREEN BAY – The breakthrough season was complete. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was a Pro Bowler, an All-Pro and firmly entrenched as one of the NFL’s top young stars.
Still, the work had just begun for the Packers safety after his third campaign concluded in January.
Shortly thereafter, Clinton-Dix returned to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to keep working toward a promise he made to his mother, his coach and his friends when he left early for the draft in 2014.
To finish his degree in criminal justice.
“This is just something I wanted to do,” said Clinton-Dix after Thursday’s second public OTA practice. “It’s also something that I owe my mom and people I look up to, my peers. … I’m 24 years old. I don’t have anything to lose, so why not continue trying?”
Clinton-Dix took two classes at Alabama this spring, earning B-minuses in both. He’ll graduate next spring following the completion of his final 14 hours.
His return to school was mostly understated. Despite tying for the league lead in interceptions among safeties with five in 2016, Clinton-Dix said he tried not to draw much attention to himself in class.
Nobody gave him a hard time. Everyone was there to learn.
Although Clinton-Dix missed the early portion of the offseason program due to his schedule, his position coach Darren Perry was all in favor of his pupil’s decision to address his unfinished business in the classroom.
“I’m impressed,” Perry said. “I want all those guys to go back and go to school and get their degrees. Football is just going to be your intermediary. At some point, you’re going to have to get on with your life’s work.
“Anytime you’re talking to kids and can go back and show them ‘I got my degree,’ I think that adds to the leadership and being a role model, being a mentor. I applaud him for that. I think it’s outstanding.”
Since returning to Green Bay, Clinton-Dix has been working to build upon the strides he made in 2016 when he led the defense in playing all 1,029 regular-season snaps, his third consecutive year eclipsing the four-digit threshold.
In the process, Clinton-Dix cut down significantly on his missed tackles and ramped up the big plays with his five interceptions in the final nine weeks of the season, leading the NFL over that span.
The performance garnered Clinton-Dix his first Pro Bowl selection, a game that was played in his hometown of Orlando. The accolades came as no surprise to Clinton-Dix’s teammates and coaches back in Green Bay.
They’ve seen what Clinton-Dix has been capable of since he first stepped into the building.
“Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has presence,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “You see that as a young player and it’s definitely something that’s grown in his time here. He has credibility. He’s played at an extremely high level for us.
“His personality is definitely becoming a bigger part of our football team.”
Clinton-Dix cushions the compliments with reminders of where he can improve. He strives to be more vocal in the secondary. He wants to be a respected leader and mentor to young players like veteran Morgan Burnett has been to him.
He already has earned a fan in second-round draft pick Josh Jones, who frequently used to watch Clinton-Dix’s film in an effort to pick up tips and techniques to incorporate into his own game.
It’s not just the safety room, though. Clinton-Dix’s influence spans across the entire locker room. Earlier this week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers singled Clinton-Dix out as one of the up-and-coming leaders on the roster.
“Ha came in on fire,” outside linebacker Nick Perry said. “I think he had a chip on his shoulder about getting the job done no matter what the cost was. He takes a lot of pride on being out there on the field at all times. I can’t think of many times he wasn’t out there on the field. That goes to show you the kind of person he is.”
The key for Clinton-Dix is remaining humble and being honest with himself. He doesn’t want to be propped up or placed on a pedestal. He’s still as hungry as ever entering Year 4.
Off the field, Clinton-Dix is looking forward to what the future holds. He’ll fulfill the rest of his required credits through an internship this summer with the Brown County Circuit Court system and another next spring.
Then, Clinton-Dix will get the opportunity he’s always coveted to “dance my way down the aisle” at graduation, completing what has been a life-altering learning opportunity.
“It kind of opened my mind up to different things and just my life in general,” Clinton-Dix said. “I think I do look at things a lot differently now that I went back to school. That definitely was eye-opening.”