1 of 5
Paul Chiasson, AP
Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo comments on the firing of the Canadian Football League team's coach, Dan Hawkins, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Montreal. General manager Jim Popp will take over as interim coach. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)
It was a lot of work, especially since I hadn’t done any schoolwork in over 20 years. I really had to get used to getting my mind wrapped around studying again and turning in papers. —Anthony Calvillo

It was everything a newly minted college graduate could want: a warm spring day, people in somber academic gowns, a lot of pomp and circumstance.

Never mind it took Anthony Calvillo 21 years to get there.

There’s still something liberating about throwing your mortarboard hat in the air, even when you’re almost 42.

Calvillo officially walked the walk on Saturday at Utah State, earning a bachelor’s degree in general studies. An argument could be made that he should already have an honorary degree, having studied and solved problems for two decades as a star quarterback in Canada. But that’s not how it works.

If you want the sheepskin, you do the work — even if you’re the most prolific passer in pro football history.

“It was a lot of work, especially since I hadn’t done any schoolwork in over 20 years,” he said. “I really had to get used to getting my mind wrapped around studying again and turning in papers.”

In some ways, Calvillo’s graduation is as good an endorsement for USU as the 79,816 yards and 455 career touchdowns he compiled in the pros. He certainly didn’t need a college degree on his resume.

He might not be as recognizable as Montreal natives Celine Dion or Mario Lemieux, but he’s not a face in the crowd, either. After leading USU to its first bowl win ever in 1993, he left for the Canadian Football League, 15 credits shy of graduation.

He always figured he’d get back to it, but season turned to season and soon he was wrapping up a playing career. Upon retirement this January, he got looking at his to-do list and discovered graduation was near the top.

After a call or two, he verified the university was still in business and soon enough, so was he. There was a class on management and organization to complete, another on Eastern Asia history, plus an internship.

“What scared me the most was that when I retired, I announced that I was going to graduate, so from a lot of sources, they were saying I couldn’t mess up. That was weighing on me. There was a lot of pressure to it.”

It’s not like Calvillo is unfamiliar with pressure. He led teams to Grey Cup titles in 2002, 2009 and 2010 and was the league’s Most Outstanding Player three times.

But when it came to graduation, he was like Joe Namath in 1969. He had opened his mouth and made the call; now it was time to back it up.

Which he did on Saturday, bringing along his wife and two kids.

“I wanted my kids to see this,” he said.

Upon leaving USU, Calvillo was undrafted by the NFL. Undeterred, he signed with the CFL’s Las Vegas Posse. When that team folded, he moved on to the Hamilton Tiger Cats via the dispersal draft. He signed in 1998 as a free agent with Montreal, where he set about becoming the next Doug Flutie.

Just like Flutie, he became one of four CFL quarterbacks to pass for more than 6,000 yards in a season. Cavillo’s three outstanding player awards are the second-most in CFL history, behind only Flutie.

When that all ended in January, he was looking for a new challenge. He took the remaining two courses online, plus served an internship with the Alouettes, which included negotiating contracts with free agents and evaluating and reporting talent.

“The team and management always says when they release somebody that it’s in the best interest of the team, and I used to wonder what that means,” he said. “I found they don’t make those decisions overnight.”

Looking back on his college days — which ended Saturday — there were a lot of memories. He rates his worst class a physiology course that he dropped. His favorite was human anatomy, where the students were allowed to dissect a body.

After that, he busied himself with two decades of dissecting defenses.

Calvillo says he plans to take a year off, which will include a summer in Europe. Then he wants to get into coaching.

In that case, his schooling has just begun.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged