Written by: Jordan Matthews

Switching Seats

June 26, 2015

I can remember sitting in the seats at the Rookie Symposium last year, watching the player panel and thinking, “This is probably the most important part of the whole entire event because this is where I’m going to be in a year.” I knew that if those were the guys sitting up there talking to the rookies, then obviously they’d gained enough respect from the NFL and their peers to be in that position sharing their experiences with the rookie class. And I said to myself right then, “I want to be on that panel next year. And even if I’m not on the panel, I want to have done enough to be deserving of being on it.”

So I took the opportunity to participate in this year’s player panel very seriously. I wanted to share what I’ve learned in one year with a group of young men who are about to go into that. I think that’s awesome, and I looked at the opportunity as a blessing.

There are two key nuggets of information that I really wanted these guys to take away from this. First, stay even-keeled. Never get too high and never get too low. Create a positive environment that allows you to stay in a mindset of peace and focus when it comes to football and your life…and then stay there. If you can stay in that lane, then the game of football is going to come a lot easier. Go to work, study film, spend time with your family, but stay in that lane.

The second thing is don’t ever compare. Don’t look at what this guy over here is getting paid and start changing the way you act in the locker room based on what somebody else has. Don’t look at what another team is doing in OTAs and start wondering why your team is running so much. If you start comparing, you’ll start slacking, and then you’re going to find yourself looking for a different team. Focus on what you have to do and go get that done.

This next month is important. Go get your body healthy. After OTAs and mini-camp, you need a soft tissue specialist or some type of doctor that can put you on a table and tell you what you need to do during the next month to make sure you are healthy for the start of the season. Figure out the ins and outs of your body, what it looks like and what you need to work on.

Then go find somewhere you can train and vacation at the same time. Don’t go to South Beach, kick it all month and think you’re going to come to training camp and take a job. Mentally and physically you won’t be ready. Go to, for example, a place in Cali, where there’s an API, and you can train every single day. And on the weekends, spend it how you want. I would never tell anybody to go into a hole and train because that might get you too stressed out. That’s not for everybody. But you can find a nice place, where, for four hours a day, you’re making sure you’re getting stronger, faster, better at your skills and focusing on taking care of your body. And then you can relax.

I like the quote “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” There have been enough NFL players who have gone up on stage and talked about how they went broke or how they didn’t take their jobs seriously or how they had to drop out of the league. Let them be the last guys to tell those stories. You don’t have to go through something bad to understand what that experience feels like. Let those guys go through it and you learn from it.

If you take the approach of an undrafted free agent that has to make it everyday, then you can’t help but be successful. It’s a blessing to be able to catch footballs for a job. Just don’t waste this opportunity.

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Written by: Donte' Stallworth

Dear Rookies: Please Learn From My Mistakes

June 26, 2015

The number one message that I try to relay to these rookies at the NFL Symposium is that every choice you make has a consequence, whether it’s positive or negative, good or bad. Every decision you make will have a subsequent effect, so if you make a bad decision, then that’s inevitably going to turn into something that you won’t be able to take back.

And in my case, that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t a one-time thing. Like many of my other teammates in college and in the pros, I had driven under the influence a number of times. The message is that you’re playing Russian roulette when you’re doing that…you’re playing Russian roulette with your own life, with the lives of others and with your career. All of it can be over from one terrible decision. And it’s 100 percent preventable.

So how do you prevent getting to that point? Well, you have to make better decisions prior to going out to dinner or to a club. If you are going somewhere, and you know alcohol is going to be involved and there’s a .1 percent chance that you’re going to have an alcoholic drink, plan ahead. Get a car service or an Uber, get a designated driver who’s not drinking at all. There are so many different options that you have today so that you do not put yourself in that predicament. Once you go out and you’re driving, you’ve already made the decision to drive. And maybe you end up going to dinner and having a glass of wine that turns into another glass, or you have a cocktail that turns into two, three, four, whatever the case may be. At that point, you’ve already made the decision to drive. So you’ve already put yourself in a bad predicament from the beginning.

I try to stress the importance of making those good decisions ahead of time. I think a lot of guys get in trouble when they think they’re okay to drive because they’re a few minutes away from home. And so was I. I was three minutes away from home. It’s all about decision-making and planning ahead of time. I don’t try to scare them, but I do try to give them a dose of reality. And I stand in front of them and show them pictures of when I was in court, pictures of when I was being fingerprinted, in handcuffs. I try to give them a visual that says if you make the decision that I did – and it only takes one time – this could be your future. You have so much to lose, and it’s so simple and 100 percent preventable.

My hope is that I’m making a positive impact on these rookies. It’s never easy for me to stand in front of these guys. It always evokes the feelings that I had when it happened more than six years ago. But these guys are somewhat my peers. I’ve been in their shoes and I’ve been where they’re sitting. And I look at them like they’re brothers. It doesn’t matter if you played 10 years ago or two years ago, everyone in the NFL is part of a brotherhood. Some of these guys know who I am, some of them don’t know who I am (and/or my story), so I just want to get up there and tell them my story exactly how it happened.

I don’t want any of these rookies to make the decision that I did the morning of March 14, 2009. And whatever I can do to help them understand how big of a mistake it is…then that’s what I’ll do. 

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Written by: Andrus Peat

Ready To Work

June 26, 2015

I’m getting a lot out of the NFL Rookie Symposium, especially after hearing from guys who have been in the league. They’re talking to us about how to be a professional and what that entails. We’re learning about how to make the right decisions, finding the right mentors and how to handle everything, not only on the football field, but off of it as well. Rookie season can be kind of stressful because we’ve never done this before, so you have to come in with a game plan.

There are some things that have really stuck. The financial part of this is new to me, so I’m paying attention to how to manage my money and set a budget. Also, finding mentors, finding guys on the team who can help answer my questions. And it’s definitely important to use the resources that the NFL offers us because there are a lot of resources at our disposal.

Having a father who played in the league has definitely given me a jumpstart on and off the field. He shares his experiences and the mistakes that he made with me, and I can put that to use by doing things the right way. On the field, he gives me advice on technique and the X’s and O’s of football, which has been a huge advantage for me. And it’s pretty special having a Dad who played offensive line because he knows the ins and outs of the position and the game. Going through the Draft process, I was actually really surprised at how many connections he has. I met so many people who said they knew my Dad and that he was a great player who had a lot of integrity. It’s kind of motivated me to follow in his footsteps and try to be the kind of player he was…and better if I can.

Right now I’m trying to keep my head down and continue to work, learn from veteran players and improve each day. I’m not really worried about starting, what my role is going to be or this and that. I’m focused on working hard and getting better. The Saints can expect a football player who’s tough, smart and who’s going to bring his heart every day and work. 

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Written by: Jordan Thompson

Seize The NFL Opportunity NOW

June 26, 2015

When presented with the opportunity to participate in a Player Panel at Rookie Symposium, I jumped all over it. Attending the Rookie Symposium was an opportunity that I didn’t get a chance to partake in because I was undrafted. Guys talk about the event, talk about how they got to visit the Hall of Fame; I was always curious about the symposium and thought it would be a great experience. So here was my chance to go to the Rookie Symposium and do something that I’ve never done before.

There were a few messages that I wanted to share with this year’s rookie class. First, it’s important they realize that playing football for a career is a blessing. Last season, I approached every day when I walked into that facility as if I was only guaranteed that day. Not tomorrow, not a week or month from now. Only that day was a guarantee. And I was going to do everything I could that day to try and make sure I had a job come tomorrow. Never getting comfortable is what keeps you on your toes and keeps you fighting for every advantage that you can get to help propel your career further.

I was there early and I stayed late. A lot of guys say to be the first guy there and the last one to leave, but it’s really about how you use your time. I made sure I was watching film and going through the game plan over and over. That way I knew everything that was going to happen and all of the plays we were going to call. I went through this preparation to be ready when my name was called. Feeling prepared allowed me to play fast and feel comfortable once we got on the field so I could just play football and not have to worry about anything else.

You never know how long your career will last, and they always talk about using the NFL to potentially further your career, whether it’s in this league or in businesses outside of football. Everybody knows about the NFL, so the connections you can make through it are phenomenal. I participated in the NFL Personal Finance Boot Camp down at the University of Miami, and that week of classes just blew my mind. It was so great to hear from university professors from the MBA program, to have direct access to them, and to have access to guys from TD Ameritrade who teach online Webinar classes on investing.

I think if there’s one thing that I hope the rookies take away from what I had to say it’s that this opportunity is here now. It’s not an opportunity that you can take advantage of five or ten years from now. It’s an opportunity that, by the grace of God, has been given to you. And you have to make sure that you use that opportunity to its fullest everyday.

Don’t walk away with regrets or wishing you had done things differently. Use every resource that you can to succeed and play as long as you can. The NFL does a great job of helping guys, but ultimately, it comes down to the player and whether he decides to use those resources to become better…on and off the field.

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Written by: Justin Britt

Advice For This Year’s NFL Rookies

June 26, 2015

Last year, my favorite part of the Rookie Symposium, the part that really caught my attention for the whole time, was the player panels. I am a player who tries to take notice of what successful players are doing and find ways to make it work for me. I feel that hearing their stories last year kind of gave me a jumpstart on my career, and I wanted to come back and do the same for this year’s rookie class.

For me, during my rookie year, it was important to find distractions and eliminate them. I also had to figure out how to control things that weren’t issues before, like money, people wanting your money, people asking for tickets. A big thing that really helped me was leaning on older guys, like Lem Jeanpierre and J.R. Sweezy, guys who have been successful and have done it.

And I take different things from different guys…like J.R.’s work ethic. He’s my weight room partner now, and so is Lem. The three of us (and sometimes four) are kind of the group that everyone knows is going to go in and work extra. Lem is married so he was able to help me in different ways since I’m married too. I remember he came up to me when I first got there and said, “You can help us. If you need anything, let me know.” I called him every night for two weeks straight bugging him about the playbook. I credit him, and the staff of course, for me pretty much knowing and understanding the basics of the playbook in like the first month I was there. Just seeing their routine and what they do has definitely helped me.

Part of being a pro football player is taking care of your body. You are only good if you’re available. If you’re not available, what good are you? Make sure you are healthy. There are some things you can’t control, but you can prevent most of it. In college, you can manhandle almost anyone that you want to as an offensive lineman. But in the NFL, you have guys like Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware (and our team, Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril, Mike Bennett, Mebane on the inside, I could go on and on), who are as strong – if not stronger – than you your first and maybe second year. So being a pro in the football sense is really fine-tuning your skills, adding stuff to your repertoire and really playing chess out there in a game with your veteran opponents.

Whether you have a family or not, find a way to manage your time and your life because now you suddenly have this money, you have the free time you never had because you’re not in school. So find ways to manage your time and take care of your body and life. And study! Oh, and one more piece of advice based on my own experience: tell your club to take out what you owe for taxes before you get paid…or it’s going to hurt!

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Written by: Garrett Grayson

Becoming A Pro

June 25, 2015

The biggest thing I came in to the NFL Rookie Symposium wanting to learn was how to be a pro…learning how to handle yourself on and off the field, learning how to handle your money, learning how to put all the pieces together so you can become a pro in football and in life.

We have had long days, but all the information is really good. Every rookie has gone through this process and we are trying to follow in past rookies’ footsteps, learn from their mistakes and take what we can from the experience.

For me, as a quarterback, I’m learning more about how to communicate by interacting with all the guys and getting to know them. Coming from being the “big guy on campus,” and now you’re the little man on the totem pole, you have to reestablish that leadership and get to know the players. So being around the guys you don’t know and communicating with them and finding more about them is something that’s important as a quarterback. Obviously I need to get to know my own team first, but then getting to know guys from all around the league will allow me to build more relationships and lifelong friendships.

Right now, I’m backing up a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, so I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from him and find out what has made him so successful because he’s obviously doing something right. Year in and year out, he’s a top three or top five quarterback in the NFL, so I’m just trying to take one thing a day from him that can help me in my career. And he’s already been very helpful, as has Luke and Ryan. It’s a pretty tight-knit group of quarterbacks, so it’s been fun. It’s been fun to go to “work” and they make it easy to enjoy every day you’re there.

This season, the Saints can expect to see a guy that’s coming to work hard every day. My ears are wide open, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can from Drew and Coach Payton, two of the best offensive minds in the game. There’s a reason they’ve had the success that they’ve had for so long…and I’m just a kid ready to soak in all I can from them.

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Written by: Marcus Hardison

Ready to Compete

June 25, 2015

It was an awesome four days at the NFL Rookie Symposium. Before we came here, all the vets were like, “We’re going home…but you have to go to the Rookie Symposium and it’s going to be boring.” But it’s actually been very interesting and a great experience that I enjoyed.

We learned a lot from other players’ past mistakes. I couldn’t believe the story Chris Herren, the former NBA player, told us. That was my first time hearing it, and it was pretty amazing. I think I’ve grown just from these few days. There was a lot of information given to us and we talked about a lot of things in our breakout groups. There are definitely a lot of messages that will stay with me.

The transition to the NFL has been good. Of course I’ve been studying the playbook. The biggest difference is with my position. I’ve been playing defensive end my whole life, and now I’m getting transferred into the trenches. It’s different, but I’m going to work at it everyday and get it down.

I feel real good. I feel like I’m at the Bengals for a reason. I got drafted for a reason, and they are expecting something out of me. So I’m going to do everything I need to do – work hard, study my playbook, and do what I have to do to be a pro. I’m going to come to work and compete. I thrive on competition and I’m planning to go into training camp with a running start and really compete. This team is getting someone that’s young, very hungry and eager to play.

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Written by: Chris Conley

Respecting The Shield

June 24, 2015

The NFL Rookie Symposium has been a unique opportunity for all of us as players to come in and gather so much information in a short amount of time in so many vital areas of our lives.

One of the things you take away from this is that you’re not normal and you’ve been told that your entire lives. This week you find out the ways that you’re not normal. When I say “not normal,” I’m talking about the ways you have to carry yourself in society, the ways that you’re supposed to operate and act as a professional, the ways that you need to allow your life to grow and mature like your game has grown and matured. This is when you find out how atypical you need to be in this league in order to succeed.

That’s what this week has been about. It’s about being different, being a change agent, as I like to say, and being someone who makes a difference rather than making a negative impact. I feel like people initially think is about coming here and telling people, “hey, don’t smoke, don’t go out and get in trouble.” But a lot of the tools and the resources that are here this week are showing us how to go do something positive, not just how to avoid getting into trouble or remaining neutral. And I think that’s one of the beautiful things about the league.

We’ve had some great dialogue. The guys haven’t just been here falling asleep and sitting back. They’ve been engaged and getting something out of this. There are so many quotables from this week. So many different speakers have come in and made an impact. We heard from former NBA player Chris Herren speak (that was the second time I heard him actually), and every time it’s impactful. Every time, listening to him makes you take a step back and look introspectively at yourself and ask, “What are the areas in my life where I might be using something to mask or cover something up?” It reminds you that no matter how good someone looks, there could always be something going on.

Learning about this league and learning about respect, responsibility, integrity, resiliency…we’re really seeing how important those characteristics are in upholding the shield. It’s not just about going out and doing what’s best for your team. You’re representing the shield and you’re representing the brotherhood. And long after you’re done playing, this will represent you because you were a part of it. These messages have really stuck with me because I’ve always been someone who wants to take care of my family name and represent my team well. And now you get a sense of the broader scope of what you represent and what you’re a part of. It’s something you have to really lock into.

I don’t think anyone has any delusions of grandeur. In order to make an impact on this league you have to – first and foremost – play football on a high level. After that, you can’t allow football to be who you are. Football is something that we do; it’s something that we do on an extremely high level. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. But at the same time, you have to know who you are as a person, what you identify with, where you come from and how you’re best equipped to reach people. Everyone has a different background, different family settings and things that they’ve been through. And that allows them to reach some people that I can’t. But I have to make sure that I’ve identified those areas in my life so that I can continue to grow and reach out and impact people where others can’t.

That’s the beautiful thing about having so many guys from so many areas come together for a common goal. That is football. And that’s the same thing we have to do off the field in terms of reaching people and making a difference. 

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Written by: Cedric Ogbuehi

Taking It All In

June 24, 2015

I’ve been taking in a lot of life lessons at the NFL Rookie Symposium…things like how to manage your finances, making good choices, the consequences that come with those choices. Before I came here, some of my current teammates and former college teammates gave me a heads up about what to expect here, so I knew they were going to pile on a lot of information.

We heard a lot about the stress of balancing everything during your rookie year, which can be a long season. In college we played about 13 games, and in the NFL you have at least four more games than that. So you have to learn how to cope with it and keep playing at a high level. And now I know that if something happens that I need help with, I can talk to people at the team or a vet about it. There are people who can help you stay mentally focused.

I am working out, learning the playbook, trying to do all of the little things you have to do to become a good player in this league. Cincinnati can expect to see a guy who is going to give it his all, compete and try to help this team win. I feel good. It’s a blessing to be in this situation, and I’m just taking it all in.

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Written by: Bud Dupree

Ready For The Challenge

June 24, 2015

Here at the NFL Rookie Symposium, we have learned a lot about so much…having a plan, financial savings, what to expect your first year in the NFL, how to handle any obstacles that might come our way. Some of the information is stuff that the Steelers have been stressing to me already, but it’s all helpful.

We’ve heard from a lot of current and former players about the experiences they went through. Chris Herren (former NBA player), Donte Stallworth, Brandon Marshall…these guys have been through a lot, and I feel like hearing their stories helps us out. It makes us feel like they really care about us and want to see us succeed. Any time someone takes time out of their day to tell you about their life experiences – and knowing we can all relate to it in some type of way – it’s something you really want to listen to. No matter where you come from, we all run into obstacles, and hearing them tell us that we can overcome these obstacles is a big push for us to keep grinding.

Based on what I learned here, I am going to start doing things a little differently. I am going to prepare better and take better care of my body. Preparation and having a plan is a big key to being successful, so I’m going to make sure I have a plan laid out every day and night.

I feel great about the season ahead. We have a great team and we just want to keep getting better. I’m going to try and help this team any way I can. When my team needs me to do something, I’m going to do it. And whatever position they need me in, I’m going to take it. Any time, any spot…when my name’s called, I’ll be ready.

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