Several Redskins players gave advice to high school football players Monday at FedExField as they prepare for college and a career.
"Who wants to play in the NFL?"
Of the 462 high school football players that raised their hands to that question Monday morning at FedExField, based on statistics, only a handful of them will likely see those desires fulfilled.
That might seem bleak, but the strategy for "4th & Life," the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation's curriculum-based program, presented by Coca-Cola, is aimed to prepare high school student-athletes for that potential reality, using current Redskins players and alums to preach the values of finding success on the field, in the classroom and in the workplace.
Each year, the event attracts football players and coaches from area high schools – primarily in Washington, D.C., Prince George's County and Loudoun County – and offers them useful, practical tools about sticking to an academic track, preparing for college and pursuing other types of careers through breakout sessions and forums.
"Our whole goal really is to help level the playing field for kids," said Jane Rodgers, executive director of the Charitable Foundation. "We know that young athletes are so busy and the demands on their time when they're in high school, for a sport, are so great. We really want to message them about how they manage time effectively, how do they think about what's next. From our perspective it's all about just giving them as much information as possible to make them successful."
Rick "Doc" Walker opened the event before allowing the large group to join breakout sessions in different parts of the stadium.
Waiting for them – in the MGM lounge, the interview room and the press box – were linebacker Houston Bates, running back Alfred Morris, punter Tress Way and fullback Darrel Young, all of whom discussed topics about time management, academics, community service and college prep. Each breakout session, moderated by a Junior Achievement staff member, featured a knowledgeable professional as well as a representative from Coca-Cola to provide additional insight and advice on discussion topics.
Also joining the event were:
- Keith Singletary, Owner at Chick-fil-A Capital Center (JA)
- Lori Gazelle, Coca-Cola
- Tony Thompson, Former Prince George's County Public Schools Principal
- Dawn Edgerton-Cameron, Commercial Director, Coca-Cola
- Andrea Harrison, Councilmember at Prince George's County Council, District 5
- Curtis Etherly, Government Relations Director, Coca-Cola
- Mike Hydeck, Anchor at WUSA
- Roosevelt Wilder, Distribution Center Manager, Coca-Cola
Young said he was happy to speak about the importance of preparing for a life after football.
"Just because we're on TV and we're on a different pedestal, sometimes because of what we do every day, we're still human beings," Young said. "We still have to pay taxes. We have to do the little things off the field to be successful."
Young spoke about the easy attraction to superstars in the league, and how simple it is to get caught up in the possibilities of having millions of Twitter followers and massive income at their disposal. Of course, the day's event was meant to provide a different perspective.
"When I was in their seats, I was dreaming about making big plays in the NFL, doing things to support my family, to have a family one day, to drive a luxurious car or something, but all that's not important now that I'm in the NFL," Young said. "Know there's going to be steps along the way to build you. And bring someone along with you."
That particularly resonated with Aaron Parker, a senior quarterback from Gwynn Park High School. The breakout sessions with different players allowed him to see their leadership in action, inspiring the crowd with their life stories and anecdotes on becoming successful.
"You can relate to a lot of NFL players," Parker said. "They can have the same exact history you have. You're not going to play football just to play football. You're going to school to get your education, because football is not going to always be there."
For some, maybe the freshmen and sophomores in attendance that believe the NFL is waiting for them, this is still a harsh mindset to acquire.
But Monday's message wasn't about stomping on dreams. It was about a contingency plan in case they don't work out.
"What we want them to walk out of here with is a fundamental understanding that it's a challenge to make it in the NFL, but there are a lot of other careers in sports that they can take advantage of," said Ed Grenier, CEO of Junior Achievement.
For Kevin Jones, a JV head coach at Ballou High School, the message struck a powerful chord with his players. "It's a tremendous opportunity for the kids to come from the inner city," Jones said, "to come out and get love from the Redskins organization and see how the boys do it on another level… so that we can get to another level. [It] might not be professional sports, but professionals of life."