This season is way different than last year. Last year, I came to the Miami Dolphins after the 2013 NFL Draft and signed as an undrafted free agent. This year, I went through camp with the team, and after camp, I was released. So in the first month, it was “welcome to the real world.” It was a reality check.
Off the field, it was a reality check also. It was a reminder that, hey, you don’t know when this career is going to end. It could be tomorrow. It could be next Tuesday. Who knows? But you’re going to get the call eventually, and hopefully you’ve got enough money saved and you are ready for that real world.
Thankfully, I got a call from the Eagles after a month, and was able to sign to their practice squad. Then Miami called me after another month, and I signed with Miami to the active roster in November.
I am in a unique situation as an NFL player. I walked on to my college team, which meant out-of-state tuition at the University of Michigan, so I left school owing a lot in student loans. I tried to put as much money as I could toward that last year. I obviously wasn’t on the active roster the whole season last year, so I didn’t have as much money as some guys, but I wanted to put enough toward it so that if the game ended after last year for me, that I would feel comfortable paying the rest of my student loans off from there. I tried to attack those student loans, but also put some money away in the stock market and invest in my 401K, and everything that we learned here.
We have what we call a Rookie Success Program (which I participated in last season), and every week, the rookies meet with our Player Engagement Director Kaleb.. He emphasizes how quickly players can be in and out of the league, and I think that’s one thing that is the most eye opening when you get to the league. The roster is so fluid that you may be here a week, you may be here a year, you may be here 10 years. But eventually the game is going to end, and you hope you have your priorities in line. Another thing Kaleb really emphasizes is using this NFL identity (the shield, as he calls it) as leverage for you off the field, such as internships, externships and whatnot.
Toward the end of last season, Kaleb let me know that there was a weeklong NFL externship opportunity to work at Quicken Loans in Detroit…a chance to kind of get my feet wet in the business world. I jumped at it and thought it was a great idea. The real world is going to get here eventually, and I want to know what I do like and what I don’t like. More than anything, I wanted to understand how the business world functions.
I really am interested in coaching, but I wanted to see what mortgage banking had to offer. One of the things that are most interesting to me is the infrastructure of the industry. They’ve got the president, then the vice president, then your bankers, your huddle leaders. It functions kind of like a football team, in a sense. I thought that was very interesting.
From a leadership perspective, I thought it was very advantageous to work with those guys. I interviewed a different vice president each day (there’s four in the office I was working at). We talked about different aspects of leadership. Each VP kind of emphasized a different aspect of leadership; leading by example was one of the main themes that I picked up, putting others first, being up front and attacking and resolving conflicts. And then on Friday, I made a PowerPoint presentation of my ideas of leadership, coupled with what the VPs emphasized, to the up-and-coming leaders.
While mortgage banking might not be something I’m exactly interested in, I learned a lot from interacting with the VPs and leaders in that organization that I could apply to being a potential coach one day.
I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do this off-season yet, but I know I can’t sit around for a few months. I’d like to do something, just not sure what yet.
Like I said, I had a reality check. And the most important message to the rookies is to understand that the game is not gong to last forever. While you are a part of NFL, you’ve got to leverage the NFL identity and take advantage of the opportunities out there. You don’t know how long the game is going to last, so you have to plan for the future now. Be ready.
I do feel comfortable that when that time comes, I have a plan in place and I’ll be ready to roll and attack the real world.