High school football players from four schools in the greater Washington D.C. area were welcomed to FedExField for the annual 4th & Life High School Football Forum hosted by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation on Tuesday.
The event allowed student-athletes to hear from active Redskins and alumni about their experiences as a young adult, specifically on how they balanced football with everything else in life.
Former NFL wideout James Thrash, who enjoyed two stints with Washington from 1997-2000 and 2004-2008, started Tuesday's discussion as the keynote speaker.
"This forum is really about you. It's about helping you prepare for those decisions that you'll make," said Thrash, who noted that he lived with a dysfunctional family as a child. "I wish I had something like this to help me with those issues off the field."
The 4th & Life High School Football Forum focuses on preparing high school student-athletes for life after football. Redskins players in attendance participated in a panel discussion which touched on a variety of topics, such as coping with peer pressure, staying healthy and planning for their academic and athletic futures. The panel, emceed by NFL alumnus James Thrash, provided high school athletes with the unique opportunity to engage in a wide-ranging dialogue with Redskins players.
Following the introduction, a panel reflected on their younger selves and participated in a Q&A session with the audience. Members of the panel included past Redskins Kendric Golston and Josh Morgan and current players Tony Bergstrom and Tim Settle.
Among the topics that came up was the issue of work ethic -- something all of the panelists agreed has been crucial in getting to where they are today. For Tuesday's speakers, hard work transcends football; it factors into every aspect of life.
"You don't know what commitment is yet," said Golston, a defensive lineman for the Redskins for 11 seasons. "You gotta outwork people. ...All your teachers are your coaches in the classroom."
Settle, a current Redskins defensive lineman who grew up in nearby Manassas, Virginia, and attended Virginia Tech, shared a similar sentiment. "You gotta put the same commitment you put to football to schoolwork and helping out with the house in general."
Still, despite serving as role models for these student-athletes as members of the NFL fraternity, all four panelists acknowledged they were far from perfect growing up.
Morgan, who went to H.D. Woodson -- one of the four schools in attendance -- and played for the Redskins as a wide receiver in 2012 and 2013, admitted to being a little naive growing up in Washington D.C. "I would slack with my schoolwork," he said. "I was trying to go to school, be cool, play football ... and fit into society."
Recognizing his past faults, Morgan urged the crowd to be different."Stay focused: go to school and play football."
Following the event's opening discussion, student-athletes, coaches, and speakers separated into various breakout sessions that intended to further the lessons of life outside of football. Programs led by members of the Junior Achievement of Greater Washington organization concentrated on career skills and entrepreneurship, while Visa representatives helped lay out the basics of financial literacy. The Positive Coaching Alliance also taught a course to the schools' coaches.
For Greg Fuller, the head coach at the aforementioned H.D. Woodson, learning some of these tools is invaluable when trying to save kids from troubling circumstances.
"You're a young man first, a student second and an athlete third," Fuller said. "If they can maintain being a young man and [be] respectful and responsible, they can become whatever they want."
One of Fuller's players, Jalen Allen, a senior defensive end and running back, tries to act in such a manner. "Just live your life like [the players]," he reasoned. "Don't focus on what's not important. Focus on the main objective of your life: chasing your dream."
For Allen, that dream is to make it to the NFL, as is the case of so many who grow up competing on the gridiron. Getting the chance to see Settle, someone from the Washington Metropolitan area who accomplished just that, was an incredible gift. "He's doing what I want to do. ... I want to make it to the league and give back to the youth."
If nothing else, Thrash was excited to provide that opportunity. For him, broadening perspective can be crucial in determining success. "Being exposed to something that's different challenges them to start thinking differently," he asserted. "Having the opportunity to come and just share bits of wisdom and hopefully some life lessons that I've learned along the way ... It means everything."