Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs remembers all too well the uncertainty of being a freshman at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Although his father Ron was a professional football player, Shawn wasn't sure that he would follow in his footsteps.
"I had no idea I would become a football player, but I knew that I didn't want to limit myself," he said. "I knew I had to do well in school because if I didn't, I would be limiting myself. I wouldn't be giving myself the opportunity to be successful."
Even as Springs was excelling at football at Springbrook, he dreamed of becoming an architect.
Given his football skills, Springs soon realized that "it's a lot easier tackling players than it is to build a building." So he decided to use his blossoming football career to help advance his dream.
"When I retire from the NFL, I will get into the real estate business," Springs said.
Shawn Springs spoke with more than 500 freshman student-athletes from local high schools on Tuesday at FedExField. He joined tight end Robert Royal, quarterback Jason Campbell and cornerback Carlos Rogers at the Redskins Charitable Foundation's "4th & Life Rookie Forum," designed to show freshmen football players the importance of preparing early for college and life after football.
Springs returned to the area where he grew up when he signed with the Redskins in March 2004. He spent his first seven NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, the team that drafted him in the in March 1997.
As a "freshman" in the NFL, Rogers says he regards Springs as a mentor, even as the two of them joke around about who was the better college cornerback
In a sense, Rogers is a freshman all over again, this time in the NFL. To help with the adjustment, he is using his experiences from adjusting as a freshman in high school and college. He is determined to get off to a strong start in the NFL, and so far the results have been encouraging.
On Tuesday, Rogers encouraged the freshmen to get off to a strong start in high school. He admitted that he lacked focus as a high school freshman at Butler High School in Augusta, Ga., and it impacted his grades.
Despite starring at Butler as a running back and defensive back, he attended Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., to improve his grades.
"It hurt my mother--she cried when I didn't go straight from high school to college," Rogers said. "When I saw that, I promised myself I wouldn't let her down again. I turned my grades around."
A year later, Rogers began his college career at Auburn. After four seasons and 44 starts for the Tigers, the Redskins drafted him in the first round (9th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Campbell, who was Rogers' teammate at Auburn, spoke about working his way up the ladder of success, from high school to college to the NFL. As the Redskins' third-string quarterback this season, Campbell is working his way up his own ladder of success, spending his rookie season learning the ways of the NFL behind Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey.
Since playing quarterback in the NFL has a steep learning curve, Campbell is not expected to see much--if any--playing time this season. But he knows that his time will come in subsequent years.
"It doesn't hurt to dream big," said Campbell, who attended Taylorsville High School in Taylorsville, Miss. "You just have to work hard to achieve those dreams."
Royal encouraged the students to be "tough and smart" on and off the football field. The 6-4, 260-pound tight end attended Karr High School in New Orleans before moving on to play at LSU.
"You have to make a lot of decisions to make it in life, and you have to be smart to make those decisions," he said. "You have to be tough to avoid peer pressure and stay focused on your goals."
At the "4th & Life Rookie Forum," Springs brought along two friends he knew during his high school days: Lawrence Garrison, director of employment services for a mental health agency in Washington, D.C., and Kareem Swinton, a former NFL offensive lineman who is now director of marketing services for Marriott Corp. Garrison and Swinton talked about succeeding in the business world.
The forum, created specifically for high school freshmen, is one of the Redskins Charitable Foundation's signature community programs. The event was sponsored by Coca-Cola.
The Charitable Foundation will hold another "4th & Life Forum" next month for high school seniors.
In partnership with Junior Achievements, the foundation distributed curriculum cards that featured tips on staying on the academic track and preparing early for college.