Written by: Na'il Diggs

Kickoff of the 2015 Sports Journalism Bootcamp

May 15, 2015

It's a rainy morning in Bowling Green, Ohio!! Good thing we're inside for all our meetings. All the guys are ready and anxious to get the day's events started. #NFLPE2015

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Written by: Justin Forsett

Pick #233

April 30, 2015

When I was drafted in 2008, I was back home at my house in Texas with my family. I was projected pretty early (a third-round pick), so I knew I wouldn’t be getting picked up on the first day. I went out bowling with my brother.

On the second day, I was at the house, sitting in my room chillin’…waiting for my name to be called. Third round passed. Fourth round passed. I was frustrated, at a loss for words. I decided to take a nap, hoping that if I slept long enough, I’d be awoken to a phone call telling me where I’d be playing for the next couple years. I woke up – it was the sixth round – and no phone call. All I could think was, “God, what’s going on?” I felt like I did everything I could to put myself in a good situation to get drafted. I was emotional, trying to hold back tears going into the seventh round.

Teams started calling my and my Dad’s phone to try to get me as an undrafted free agent. In my head I’m thinking, “I can’t believe I’m going this route after being a player who was overlooked my whole life…people telling me what I can’t do, trying to put me in a box and put labels on me. I have to fight through this hurdle again.”

I got to the point where I decided that wherever I went – and even if that meant as an undrafted free agent – I was going to make my mark. While I was on a call with a team trying to convince me to sign with them, another team called my Dad’s phone. It was the Seattle Seahawks calling to tell us they were taking me with the next pick.

Pick #233.

For that brief moment, you forget about all of the picks that went before you. I was just so excited that a team actually wanted me and wanted to give me an opportunity. But I still had that hunger and chip on my shoulder. I knew I wasn’t a high pick, but I was going to make my mark.

Seven years later, here I am. It doesn’t matter when you go; what matters is what you do when you get there. Year in and year out, you see guys that may have been overlooked playing instrumental roles on their teams. There are a lot of successful players in the league today who were drafted in late rounds or not even drafted at all.

I like to watch the Draft. As a youngster watching it, I always wanted to be one of those guys that got to walk across the stage, shake the Commissioner’s hand, have my picture taken with the team jersey. Today, I love seeing these young people accomplish their goals and their dreams. It’s kind of bigger than football. You see kids fighting all their lives to get this opportunity. And in that moment, their lives are changed. Their dreams have come true, not only for themselves, but for their families. They are instantly able to impact their family and their community. It’s a great thing to see.

I wish all the Draftees good luck. And remember: it’s not about when you go; it’s about what you do when you get there. I believe that.

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Written by: Corey Linsley

NFL Draft: One Year Later

April 30, 2015

A lot has happened over the past year, and it’s all been nothing short of exciting, that’s for sure. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I went through the NFL Draft experience for myself.

When I think about it, I remember being stressed as all get out. It’s an exciting process, in terms of how much is going on at one time. But as a player going through it, you’re stressed because you don’t know where you’re going to go, where you’re going to end up. For a guy like me, I didn’t know if I was even going to get drafted. For every guy, it’s different, but for me, I felt nervous, excited and pretty much every emotion you could think of throughout those three days.

My agent was honest with me from the beginning and basically said, “You’re a guy who could get drafted or could go undrafted.” He had faith in me from the beginning that I could play football in the NFL. He calmed me down throughout the process, through all the speculation. There’s so much going on, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is whether you can play ball or not.

During the Draft, I was at my girlfriend’s apartment in Columbus (Ohio). My family was back in Youngstown watching it on TV. They were very excited when my name was called, especially since the Packers picked me. I grew up a Green Bay fan, so it was pretty special. But the truth is, I knew that whatever happened, I was going to make the most of it.

The biggest thing I want to share with the guys going through this process now is not to over or under hype whatever happens to you. If you’re a first-round draft pick, that’s amazing. But remember that you still have to play, so don’t think that you’ve already accomplished everything in the world. Go out there and prove that you are a first-round pick. If you’re a late round or undrafted guy, don’t let that affect how you perform in camp and so on. Use that as a chip on your shoulder; that’s the best thing you can do.

And I am proof that it’s important to be ready for anything. What happened to me (with JC getting injured and me stepping in as starting center) is something that happens in sports sometimes. I was there to step up and those situations present themselves sometimes. For a lot of guys, the path is that they will have to wait. Whatever happens, make sure you are ready and prepared to showcase your abilities when the opportunity presents itself.

The most beneficial thing for me was that I don’t think I ever had an attitude of “I already know this, I already have this stuff figured out.” I was always looking for people to give me advice and lead me in the right direction. I tried to get advice from every person that I could – all the vets and coaches – so that I could figure out what I could do to get better everyday and help this team win. That’s what it’s all about.

I will be watching the Draft. I’m excited to see what happens with all of our guys from Ohio State, especially Darryl Baldwin, an offensive lineman who’s coming out this year. I actually spoke to Darryl yesterday. He’s going to be nervous no matter what, but I told him to trust the process, trust yourself, work hard everyday, learn the playbook…and everything will be alright. I put in the work right alongside these guys, so it will be awesome to watch them get drafted.

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Written by: Tim Watson

"Path to the Draft": Prepping for NFL Dreams Then & Now

April 28, 2015
My Draft Letter
FSU Pro Day
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 1993 NFL draft I was fortunate enough to record among the best college production and measurable attributes for success of any player at the safety position.  In addition to an impressive statistical career on the field, prior to the draft, at 6' 2", 215lbs., my official recorded "bests" in workouts for NFL teams were a 4.45sec 40 yard dash, a 4.23sec short shuttle, a 10' 10" broad jump, a 37" Vertical, and 20 reps at the 225lbs Bench Press.  Respected NFL Executive Ron Wolf, who was the Green Bay Packers’ General Manager at the time, issued the following resounding quote:

“Tim Watson is a strong safety from Howard who is probably the best --this is probably a very strong statement-- but he is probably the best tackler in the draft. Watson is a unique case. He is just a tremendous tackler. And it’s something we needed to add to our football team – another tough guy back in there. And he’s a tough man… a tough man.”

But choosing to go to Howard University (one of Americas most esteemed HBCU's), instead of a college football powerhouse was enough to raise doubts, or at least provide excuses for a lower draft selection.  So, I was only a 6th Round draft choice (selection #156), which up to that time still tied my former teammate Sean VanHorse (Drafted in the 6th Round of the '90 Draft by the Miami Dolphins), for the highest NFL Draft selection in the history of our school.  Most interesting was the fact that I wasn't even among the 300+ invitees to the 1993 NFL Scouting Combine.  My draft year actually was the first year of reduced rounds (we had only 8 total rounds as opposed to the 12 held in previous years).  That made the evaluation process even more pressing for NFL personnel, as there would be considerably fewer picks made than in the past.  Therefore, after the secret of my impressive numbers got out to the rest of the league following my first "Pro Day" workout on the campus of Howard University, I was then extremely busy right up until the draft.  For all of March, and much of April, I worked out at a minimum twice a week for scouts and coaches of various NFL teams.  So one huge difference for me and many other small school prospects was the lack of any particular single forum in which to showcase our talents.  We had to be will and ready to perform at a moments notice for scouts/coaches who wanted to work us out.  My most noteworthy visitors were Bill Belichick (then Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns, who came to see me twice, with his now deceased father, Steve, in tow), Nick Saban (then Defensive Coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, who took me through by far the toughest single workout session I ever endured), and Ted Thompson (who was a National Scout for the Packers, and is now the General Manager).  The positive of having so many scouts coming in to work me out was that it gave a number of my Howard teammates a chance to workout for NFL teams that they may not have otherwise gotten.  Also included during my pre-draft time were a couple of visits to teams who wanted a closer look; including the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders.  I ended up with a full schedule indeed.  Regardless, I enjoyed the journey, and the realization of a dream only enjoyed by a very select group of men: that is being a Draft Pick into the National Football League.

I've always been just as passionate as a fan of football as I was tenacious as a player.  So, I've been engaged in the details of the game as far back as I can remember.  Staying informed of players making up NFL rosters, no matter how noteworthy or obscure, has always been important to me.  The various stories of the paths different players have taken to fulfill the dream have been particularly interesting.  Therein, I have observed many transitions over the years, both in elements of the game, as well as characteristics of the players.  One such transition from my time to today is the the vast difference in the type of training utilized in preparation for the Draft.  Most of the players with whom I played seemed to share the same notion as I that our preparation for our NFL opportunity started the moment we began playing football as kids.  For me that was at the age of 5.  Ironically, as impressive as my measurables were in 1993, at no point did I train for any of the "tests" I was asked to perform.  My training always focused on just getting stronger, faster, and more explosive on the football field.  I never even considered training to execute the pre-draft tests.  That just may be the biggest difference between then and now.  Players today that are considered legitimate NFL draft prospects (and particularly so for those invited to the Combine), upon the completion of their final college season, they immediately go into specialized training to perform the forthcoming NFL Combine tests.  I certainly don't blame the agents, advisers, or players for taking this approach.  Obviously it is something the decision-makers in the NFL give a lot of credence in making their final analysis grading/ranking prospects.  I actually find it a bit difficult to give a whole lot of weight to an in-shorts workout "superstar," if the film is not just as impressive.  Likewise, I won't discount a player with great film and production in pads, just because he doesn't perform well during in-shorts drills.  So, I think there is a nice balance that a talent evaluator must be able to discern in projecting legitimate players from mere workout phenoms!

One thing is for certain with today's athletes, they are receiving the best and worst of the advancements in technology.  So, though the drill-specific training is improving draft grades for many players, they also have more powerful microscopes probing into who they are off the field.  With the popularity of the internet and the advent of virtual social networking, the ability to delve into the background and activities of prospects during pre-draft evaluations is at an all time high.  Though they certainly conducted background checks on me and my fellow draftees as well, it just wasn't near as extensive as what exists today.  As is currently the case for two of the 2015 draft's premier pass rushers (Randy Gregory & Shane Ray), being overly indulgent (with marijuana) off the field, may end up costing them millions of dollars, regardless of how well they've performed on the field.  There are just no stones that go unturned in today's NFL.  Word is embattled former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has become the most "researched" draft prospect in NFL history! 

In sum, there have been challenges and rewards associated with all eras of the NFL draft.  The players who truly love the game will enjoy the ride no matter when they take it.  Of course I've thought about what type of numbers might I have put up had I undergone the drill-specific training prospects are getting today.  Who knows what type of speed, agility, strength, and explosiveness I would have been able to display?  It would have definitely "upgraded" the quality of my "Path to the Draft!" I do know that it's a treat to go to Indianapolis each year to watch these young men put on a show.  But, they certainly aren't there for kicks and giggles!  The NFL is a business...and one of the most eye opening differences I've observed for today's prospects and draftees is the financial element.  So, of course I've kept up with the players selected at my equivalent position over the years.  Interestingly, pick #156 was a middle of the 6th Round pick when I was selected with it in an 8-round draft.  However, over the past 5-10 years the pick has actually been a middle of the 5th Round pick in a 7-round draft.  Financially, when I was selected by Green Bay, I received a  3-year contract worth a total of $449,000.00, broken down as follows: $36,000.00 signing bonus, and salaries of $100,000.00, $135,000.00, and $178,000.00.  Additionally, I had an Apex shoe contract for $2000 in year one, and gained a Nike contract for the remainder of my career for $10,000.00 and unlimited football related shoes and apparel.  That same pick in the 2014 Draft was made by the Denver Broncos.  They selected Lamin Barrow, a linebacker from LSU.  His slotted contract totaled $2,411,160.00 over 4 years; including a $191,160.00 signing bonus, and salaries of $467,790.00, $557,790.00, $647,790.00, and $737,790.00.  I'm not sure what his shoe contract is, but I do know that most players have negotiated rather significant deals, with some in the millions of dollars.  Regardless, just the increase in the salaries alone is a rather nice "transition" if I say so myself.  But, to all prospects who've put in the immense work necessary to even be considered for selection in the 2015 NFL Rookie Draft.  I congratulate you all on reaching this point of the journey thus far, and wish you nothing but the best in the forthcoming fruition of your "Paths to the Draft!"     

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My Piece About A Brother

April 16, 2015

My Piece About A Brother

“..being present in the moment and in the now is something we must always strive for...for the now is all we really got. My idea of after-life is lying 5 feet under with a bodacious smile from ear to ear.”  - Dylan Q. Meier

What is the good in livin the life you’ve been given if all you do is stand in one place? The gestalt of our human existence wants to answer this question but only the purest and truest, willfully, answer and live it. As I think about what a brother is, my internal flame starts to flicker like a fire would with a spritz from an aerosol can. My body warms, blood starts to pump, and arrogance in an internal space overwhelms me. My conception of a brother may be construed but my brother was unique to know other. However, in our creation, each fiber and ligament that holds our name was purposed, solely to each of us. My unique understanding of a brother is different from any others but that's how it was created to be and I love that. Unique to his own, I had the best seat to watch a master live a life.

As the youngest of four boys, my personality was crafted through a watch and learn scope. Although, not necessarily fully conscious of that through my younger development but that was how I grew up. I didn't have just one trial before me but three that would unfold before it was my turn. I would sit, listen, analyze, and then attempt to conquer or create in whatever manner I was after. It was through this process that I often found physical and emotional success. Success never was and is the end result to every experience in following along a pair of footsteps. My brother, Dylan, who I’m closest to in age was the one I followed a little more closely. He often took turns and detours towards dead ends for particular reasons. One, his path was created for him. Not symbiotic for me or anyone else and he wanted me to understand that lesson firsthand. Two, he was a wild man. He took the road less traveled because his blood flowed that way. And three, my brother’s path was established as he went. As the master of his destiny he whole-heartedly explored the depths of whom he was, where he was. It was through his humble curiosity about life and it's make-up where he learned to love life so much. Loving the life you have is so simple in creation but it is often easily lost in living it, full-time with that understanding and intent. That precious breath and gift of life was something he never misunderstood or took for granted. He radiated of life and lived without one regret or a fear. The experience of his present life always trumped the search for the meaning of it. That’s my brother.

Athletics were a large part of him but he understood athletics weren't who he was. My brother played his own tune. His own tune took him to places and those places weren't always to everyone's liking. After a physically grueling junior year at Kansas State, he had his right shoulder completely re-created. In a physically frustrated state, after meetings during training camp his senior year he decided to hit the road to Winfield, Kansas to watch some bluegrass at the Walnut Valley Festival. A great idea until the coaches phoned my mom asking if she knew where her son was. My dad learned of his where bouts first because Dylan was the first person he saw that morning coming out of his tent! Often in sports, those types of players are team breakers. They create fluidity instead of adding viscosity. However, his tune was special. It was a damn good one that was always within the parameters of the team and it was contagious. His approach to athletics was quite similar to how he approached life because he viewed them through the same eye. Within the two, he constantly found himself facing obstacles. Those obstacles were things he enjoyed embracing because it tested his will in times of inconvenience. How he responded was how he discovered who he was. The game of football is calculated on a variety of different planes. Numerically, emotionally, spiritually, and the physical toll that accumulates may be the most substantial of all. Football is a violent sport of constant collisions. It's especially violent for a quarterback. There are eleven, hungry and willing individuals that are trained all week to seek and eliminate. Dylan's medical file was dictionary thick but you'd never get the slightest speculation of that. Just like his quest for life's challenges, he found the thrill in answering and overcoming that road to recovery after injury. After his junior year in high school, he had the first of a few shoulder surgeries on his throwing shoulder. That summer was where he taught me what hard work was.

As a fourteen-year-old freshman, I watched a seventeen year old relentlessly push and work his self back to not just himself again, but a bigger and better self. Everyday that summer before evening quarterback/wide receiver work and seven on seven drills, we would go to our high school two hours before drills would begin. For the first hour, it was just he and I, meticulously going through a shoulder warm-up. I would apply an ointment and lightly massage his shoulder. Follow it with shoulder stretches and then therapeutic band exercises. It was just pure, brotherly love and fun. In the second hour our high school trainer, Robin Gardenhire, would come and guide him through the rest of his rehabilitation work. I watched, listened, and worked alongside him because his eyes and attitude told me to. Hell, I was fourteen. I didn't know my elbow from my ankle. I followed his lead because I knew it was towards a purpose that I'd understand on a later day. About 99% of the time, this was unseen work by our teammates. However, I witnessed it everyday and saw the amount of sweat and tears shed. It was through those times where he ingrained me with a repertoire of weapons that I use. More curious about my well-being than his, he lead and monitored me wherever we went in life. He never once sheltered or shadowed my personal light but was only hoping to illuminate it with the greatest intent and love. That’s my brother.

The remembrance of someone or something often follows an extravagant act of life or death. It's through these remembrances that we can find peace and comfort through grief. It’s difficult comprehending that it’s nearly five years since the passing of my brother. This weekend, April 18th, 2015 the Dylan Meier Get Busy Livin' Foundation will hold its 5th annual 5k run & 1-mile Friendship walk. That too is a hard one to digest but as hard as it is, it’s the reality of my existence. Our creator blesses, protects, and comforts those who mourn and how we mourn comes in a variety of ways. Grief is but a stage that we all pass through. It's not forever and it modifies as time continues on. There's this special trail that is opened during grief that pulls us forward to live and love as greatly as possible. Someone so strong and real never quite goes away. My brother is just like the truth. He always finds a way to the surface and makes his presence known. Of all the things he was and did, the way he made you feel was superior. It’s often in our lives that we may forget what’s someone’s said or what someone’s did but no one will ever forget how someone makes you feel. The effect he had on others was the greatest currency he held.

The beauty of our brotherhood is whether it’s two seconds or two centuries apart, there’s this rooted connection that is eternal and never broken. We’ll pick up where we left off and keep on trucking forward, seeking the next thrill. However, until I’m called home I’ve got a lot of living left to do. The timeline we live on is calculated and the breath I have in-between is to be lived with the grandeur of life. My brother is not gone but just a little further away from me, physically, for a while. I do look forward to the day where we reunite in paradise and bask in the sunlight together. We’ll reminisce on a plethora of adventures and everything will be perfect. I’ve fallen in love with goals and ambitions in life and how we get there comes from fuel. My body runs on this pure, efficient yet overly toxic and contagious fuel. It’s called my brother. In my quest to fulfill my life’s ambitions I have one that I want to hear when I see him again. “Brother, I’m proud of you.”  

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Written by: Josh Martin

2015 NFL: BM&E Program Day 2

April 09, 2015

Hello Everyone! Today we had a chance to visit three great companies: Facebook, Google, and Luxe. At first glance they may not seem similar, but they all shared a nearly palpable culture oozing with creativity and passion. All of the companies welcomed us with open arms and were extremely helpful in providing relevant information on recent developments in the tech start-up world.

Facebook

At Facebook we learned about the impact personal branding can have on professional development. Did you know Facebook has over 1.3 billion active monthly users? Neither did I. But, today I learned about the different tools Facebook offers to leverage this network in order to increase my fan base (I love you mom and dad, but your services will no longer be required...). We even had the opportunity to build fan pages with some of their excellent media staff (...thanks, Peter). We also had a chance to discuss some of Facebook's most recent obstacles with Facebook veteran Naiomi Gleit.

Google Ventures

At Google we learned more about what it takes to be successful in the tech industry. Google Ventures Partner Bill Maris offered his personal insight on what it takes to build a successful start-up and have a career in tech. A major theme was the importance of building a great team. In football the right combination of members on your team makes all the difference between winning and losing. As it turns out, selecting founders for a tech start-up is no different.

Luxe Valet

Luxe offered a raw look at the beginning stages of a start-up and might have been the most engaging stop of the day. Luxe didn't have a huge campus like Google or Facebook. They're currently housed in a relatively small office with an open layout (like a true startup in my opinion). The access was more than anything we experienced at Facebook or Google. We were able to walk up to any employee while they were working and simply ask them what they're doing. It was great because we had access to the entire backbone of the company from the CEO to the support staff. I had a chance to talk to a couple of their engineers, Pawel and Rob, and they were extremely helpful in suggesting resources to help me improve my coding skills.

Believe it or not, our day was not over. We headed back to Wharton and squeezed in a couple of presentations...I am so tired and so well informed. Until next time...zzzzzzzz

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Written by: Josh Martin

2015 NFL: BM&E Program Day 1.5

April 08, 2015

Hello to all of my fans! I'm back!!! For those of you who don't know who I am, my name is Josh Martin. I'm a third year outside linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, and I'm here to blog about my experience as a participant in the 2015 NFL: Business Management & Entrepreneurial program at the Wharton School of Business in San Francisco (...yeah that's a lot). Now that the formalities are out of the way....

This. place. is. awesome! The past day and a half have been filled with invaluable lectures and presentations offering an abundance of information. We've learned a lot stuff so far, and met a lot of great people. For example, are any of you familiar with the company Integrate? Or, its co-founder and CEO Jeremy Bloom? Besides being a presenter this week, Jeremy is an accomplished entrepreneur and professional athlete. After having a legendary professional skiing career (US Skiing Hall of Fame...cough cough) and a career in the NFL, Jeremy entered the tech start-up world which eventually led to the development of Integrate, a successful cloud marketing platform. He's obviously a busy guy, and he's only one example of the many wonderful people I've had the pleasure of meeting this week! NFL Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott was here today!

And, that is exactly why I'm here. These programs offer a means to build meaningful relationships off of the field, relationships that lead to opportunities after football is all said and done. I'm thrilled to be back this year, and I'm looking forward to sharing more of my experiences with you over the coming days. Tomorrow we visit Facebook, Google, and Luxe, so I'll be sure to take lots of pictures! Until then...



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Written by: Torrey Smith

Dear Baltimore

March 09, 2015

Where do I begin? These last four years have been amazing for me. I have been able to grow as a player, and more importantly, as a man. The men who run the Baltimore Ravens organization have been essential to my growth. For that I say thank you!

We have been able to win the division twice and win the ultimate prize, the Super Bowl. I will never forget the feeling that we all experienced knowing that we did it together. The way the city responded still gives me goose bumps every time I think about it. I literally dreamed of playing for the Baltimore Ravens, not just because it is a great organization with an amazing fan base, but because of the foundation of the team and the principles that the men who run it stand by and for.

Mr. Steve Bisciotti, I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for my family and me. Your words of wisdom and support have meant everything to me, and the love that you have shown my family was truly unconditional. I will never forget how supportive you were when my brother passed away. It was one of the darkest moments of my life and you were there for me when I needed support the most.

Mr. Ozzie Newsome, thank you for making the phone call on Draft Day that allowed my dream to come true. You have made an impact on my life by simply being yourself and challenging me to be the best that I can be. You believed in me and have expressed that over the years. You have also always been straightforward and honest with me, and for that, I am thankful.

Mr. John Harbaugh, I appreciate everything you have done for me. From educating me on random things to being a supportive and inspiring Christian leader that I can look up to, you have been a person that I can lean on for support and advice. Your door has always been open for me. Thank you.

Coach Jim Hostler, thank you for teaching me how to be a pro. You taught me how to work at my craft and challenged me to be the best that I could be. I still have some work to do, and I know if I make it there, you will still tell me it’s not good enough. I appreciate that.

Coach Craig Ver Steeg, we have grown close over the years, and I truly appreciate our relationship. You have educated me and helped me grow as a Christian man. From various biblical lessons to football talk, you have made a major impact on my life. Thank you.

Coach Bobby Engram, in one year you have helped me develop and improve in every aspect of life. You have been a great coach, support system and friend to me. I wish we had more time to work together, but I know our relationship will last a lifetime.

Cam Cameron, Jim Caldwell, Gary Kubiak, thank you for sharing your knowledge with me and giving me a chance.

Mr. Johnny Shelton, you have challenged me to become the best man and Christian I can be. It has truly changed my life. I am not the same person I was even just a year ago. Thank you.

To all of my brothers, thank you! Our locker room was amazing. The leadership, guidance and overall bond that we shared is something that I will miss, but will always be thankful for. Joe, keep doing elite ish! They don’t have to respect you, but we know what kind of player you are. It was a pleasure playing with you. Tyrod, we put in work in the offseason. We go way back and I appreciate you.

To my wideouts, we had too much fun! Jacoby, Steve, Marlon, Kamar, Camp, JB, our bond goes beyond the meeting room and I’m thankful for that. Sizz, Webb, James (Jimmy), BP, Buck, Forsett, Yanada, KO, Eugene, Morgan and all of my other teammates, I love y’all like brothers and will see y’all around. Haloti and Sam, I will miss our rides to the airport. I still can’t believe y’all never made me drive. I was spoiled.

I also want to thank the entire staff, both defense and offense, for the memories. I appreciate you all and respect you even more as men.

President Dick Cass, Eric DeCosta, Joe Hortiz, Vincent Newsome, George Kokinis (my quarterback), and Andy Weidl, thank you! Craig, Darren, Smitty, Gus, Kevin, Sam, Heather, Megan, Joan, Mrs. Pam, Mrs. Val, Mrs. Toni, Jess, Money Manny, Marlon and way too many other people to name, thank you. Y’all are family to me and I appreciate y’all taking care of me.

To my family at Jimmy’s Seafood, The Baltimore Arena, BCPS, Baltimore City Public Schools, Downtown Dog Resort, No Limit, Carbiz, Worth-A-Shot, Shoe City, thank you.

To the fans, it is tough to leave a city that I now call home. Y’all have embraced my family and me, and we truly appreciate it. Your support has been unreal and I will miss being able to make y’all proud. Although I may no longer be a member of the Baltimore Ravens, at heart, I will always be a Raven. What we accomplished together is timeless.

I will be playing for a different organization, but I will remain committed to the City of Baltimore. I will continue to give back and help build a better future for our young men and women. MY COMMITMENT TO THE CITY IS FOR LIFE. This isn’t a goodbye because I will still be around and Baltimore will continue to be my home in the offseason and when my career is done. I’m on to the next chapter of my life and football career, but I will see you guys later.

To the Baltimore Ravens Organization, good luck! Thank you, Baltimore! Love!

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Written by: Justin Forsett

Our Valentine’s Surprise

February 18, 2015

To say it was an amazing – and crazy – Valentine’s Day would be an understatement. We were surprised by the early arrival of our second son, and man, I feel blessed. I still can’t believe how it all went down…

All week I was trying to plan dinner and a movie for Valentine’s Day, but I was having a hard time getting a reservation at a good time. Then, while doing some research, I found out that Lauryn Hill, one of my favorite singers of all-time, was coming to perform at the Howard Theatre in D.C. Perfect plan. We could go to our favorite restaurant, Shake Shack, have a burger and head to the concert after that. Shake Shack is my wife Angie’s favorite place, so it was looking like it was all working out.

Fast-forward to Saturday morning. We have the babysitter all set up for our 2-year-old Judah. We were hanging around the house, and I went out around 3 to get a snack because we weren’t going to leave Baltimore until around 7.

While I was out, my wife calls me saying, “I think my water broke, but I’m not sure.” Okay, so I come back home. I’m thinking she’s probably experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions (which are like fake contractions), which she’d been having throughout the pregnancy. I come in the house, and I see her leaning over with her hands on her knees, clearly in a lot of pain. Okay, this is not Braxton Hicks, this is a contraction. I was like, okay, I guess we are going to have a baby soon, maybe tomorrow. In our first pregnancy, it took 10-12 hours until the baby came after her water broke. I wasn’t worried; I thought maybe we still had time to catch the show!

Angie called her doula, who told her to wait at home until the contractions reach a minute in length. Not even 10 minutes went by after she hung up the phone, and I looked over at her and she was having a contraction…and it was one minute in length!

Time for the two-minute drill. Right now! Thankfully she already had her stuff together. I needed to pack a bag. What are we going to do with Judah? While we’re trying to get that squared away, the contractions are getting worse. Forget everything else, we need to leave the house. Judah is coming with us.

At this point, it’s 6p.m. and the snow is coming down crazy. I’m driving, worrying about traffic because I’m thinking people are going out for Valentine’s Day. The snow made it worse. It was dark, I couldn’t see the road in front of me. I was leaning to the side, trying to find an open space on my windshield.

Mind you, the birthing center is closer toward Annapolis, which is about a 45-minute drive without traffic. No telling how long it’s going to take now. I can’t speed because the road is slippery. We’re driving by wrecks on the road. There was a salt truck in front of us. While everybody else was slowing down, I’m the guy going around him.

About halfway there, these contractions are getting really bad. Angie’s squeezing my hand and yelling. My son’s in the back yelling and crying because she’s yelling and crying. The nursery rhyme CD he likes is blasting. At this point, she’s throwing up. It’s crazy right now in the car. I was trying to be the calm one in the vehicle. Internally, I’m freaking out.

Just get us there safely and fast. The contractions are like four minutes apart. When we were getting close, she looks at me and screams, “He’s ready to come out!” Even though we are still about 30 minutes away, I keep telling her that we are almost there, to keep breathing, hold on. At one point, I’m thinking, man, we might have to stop this car and I might have to deliver this baby.

Thank God, when we got toward the backstreets close to the birthing center, it was almost all green lights. I was just trying to be supportive. As soon as we got there, they were waiting for us outside. They took her in, and one of the doulas took Judah. I still had to play my part and be there for her. I’m in there sweating, knees buckling. I was trying to be the support system.

Before we knew it, Zion Jay was here.

When the baby came, after all the hard work, everything we had been through to get her there…to see him come out, it’s always emotional, fighting back the tears. Judah was able to hold Zion a little bit. It was a blessing, an exciting time.

When you have one child, you feel like you could never have the same love for another. But you do. Even though it was our second time, man, it was still emotional, it was still heartwarming to see him come out, to hold him…it was special.

Angie was a trooper. She did this, for the second time, with no drugs. Since we were at a birthing center, we probably could have come home that night. But because the storm was so bad (the winds were really blowing), they recommended we stay over at the birthing center. Angie was okay, Zion was ok, and we were able to come home on Sunday.

The first night at home was a little tough, but Zion is doing a good job with the sleeping. He is waking up to eat during the night, but then goes right back to sleep. And he’s sleeping a lot of the day, so it’s a lot easier than the first time around (Judah was NOT a great sleeper!). Of course, it’s still draining for Angie. My mother-in-law got into town yesterday, so hopefully we’ll get some more sleep.

Judah is doing good as a big brother. He’s getting a lot of daddy time. I took him to a little My Gym class, which is an activity center for toddlers. We go there and hang out. Of course Angie and I want to make sure he still feels loved, so quality time is important.

For me, I’m taking on more of a role during the off-season. It’s a special time to be a father, spend time with the family. There’s nothing like it. Being a father is one of the greatest gifts that you can have. Seeing both of my sons now, carrying my features, it makes me want to go out and make sure I’m providing for them the right way, make sure I’m protecting them and leading them the way I’m supposed to. That way we can leave a lasting legacy way beyond my lifetime.

Oh and another bonus: Lauryn Hill tweeted at me saying congratulations on baby Zion. We knew that were going to name our son Zion. She has a son named Zion and a song “To Zion.” And our baby was born on the night that we were supposed to see her perform. It was just crazy how it all happened!

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Written by: Mike Utley

Accountability Above All

February 09, 2015

My name is Mike Utley. I am a former Detroit Lion. I was drafted in the third round of the 1989 NFL Draft. I started for three NFL seasons. On November 17, 1991, I was pass-blocking, hit the turf and broke my neck. I am a C5-C7 quadriplegic.

And I still love this game.

People ask me if I accept this injury. No, I have never accepted anything negative in my entire life. I deal with it on a daily basis. And that’s what you do. As an athlete, you deal with mid-stream adjustments. When you are married, you do mid-stream adjustments. It’s what you do. Football is a violent sport, and I will be personally responsible for my actions, on and off the field.

I was out at the Super Bowl talking about accountability; something that these young players need to address when they choose to play this beautiful game. Be accountable. I want the kids in peewee sports, the kids in high school, and the kids in college, to all be accountable. Address the situation you are faced with and then move on from it.

You need to set your own core principles. You need to understand that you cannot break those core principles. You can bend some principles, but you cannot break them. And that’s what I stand for.

The NFL has been good to me. Mr. Ford, the Ford Family, the Detroit Lions, Mr. Tagliabue (at the time) – they’ve been great. Now, Mr. Goodell, he’s stepped up and opened up his arms to me.

But the number one message for me is that I love this game. I love the competition. These men are the best athletes in the world. And I feel blessed to still be a part of what this group has created…from the past old-timers to the Gridiron Greats to these kids now.

This game…I enjoyed it then, I enjoy it now. And I will always be accountable to myself, no matter what I do. 

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