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Archive for August, 2010

Motivation from a NFL Great

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Success leaves footprints so I always encourage athletes to listen to the greats. Any athlete wanting to play their sport in college should never underestimate the importance of motivation, and reading books and articles that have observations from the greats.

Another thing I suggest is to never miss an episode of “Homecoming with Rick Reilly” on ESPN. It is a 60 minute show that focuses on the steps great athletes took to success. It always has tremendous insights on the choices they made, their recruiting experiences, and what they did to become successful. Previous episodes on athletes such as Dwayne Wade, Joe Mauer, Chris Paul, Kurt Warner, Michael Phelps and Alonzo Mourning were packed with tools of success. Sure enough, Thursday night I was right there to watch the episode focusing on Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all time leading rusher.

Emmitt spent his first years living in the trailer projects with his family in Pensacola. When asked when was the first time he thought he would be able to make it in the world, he revealed that it was when a High School teammate, a fullback named Sam, got a college football recruiting letter. Emmitt’s observation was, “They are going to pay you to go to college?!” Okay. That will be the first step.” The fact that Emmitt Smith was in High School and didn’t even know much about recruiting shows that everyone needs to get educated on the incredible possibilities that come from being a student-athlete capable of playing their sport at the next level.

Emmitt was just 5 foot 9 inches, and never was the fastest or quickest, but he was flat-out great at running the football. As he rushed for almost 9000 yards in High School, the colleges were all over him. He said every major college offered him. Most went by the rules, but back in mid 1980’s recruiting was somewhat like the Wild West in that there were some bigtime cheaters in recruiting. Emmitt’s High School football offensive coordinator, Jimmy Nichols, shared the story of one college coach handing him a check for $25,000 to give to Emmitt so he could buy a Nissan Maxima. The intention was for the coach to make sure Emmitt signed with that college. The coach refused it, saying, “I can’t do that!”

Emmitt’s High School coach, Dwight Thomas, also shared that Emmitt was the toughest kid he ever coached. There were some faster and quicker, but none tougher. He also encouraged Emmitt to write down his goals, which he did, and played a major role in his success. He said he always wrote Team goals first.

By Emmitt’s junior year at the University of Florida, he had set 58 school records. He went pro and was coached by Jimmie Johnson with the Cowboys. Emmitt revealed one reason Johnson made the Cowboys so successful was that he had them compete in everything, not just games. The weight room and practices were built around competition.

Emmitt said one of the reasons he never got all wound up in the end zone was that his Dad had raised him with the belief that “the great ones act like they have been there before” when they score.

One of the most touching moments was near the end of the hour long show when the host, Rick Reilly, observed that Emmitt had done a lot of study of his family roots and had discovered there was a white man way back in his family tree, most likely a slave owner. When asked if that upset him, he said it did not. He then looked out at his former High School teammates from Escambia High in Pensacola, who were in the audience. They were all in their mid 40’s, and it looked like every one of them was there.

“This is my family,” he said as tears streamed down his face. “They taught me to understand the differences in people, and that if you have a common goal it doesn’t matter what race you are.”

Struggling to keep his composure, Emmitt deeply thanked them for the role they played in his success. Emmitt then turned to the current High School football players.

“Take full advantage of every opportunity you have,” he told them. “There are doors of opportunity.”

Recruiting Observations

Living in the South Bend-Mishawaka area, I read the local paper each day (South Bend Tribune) and usually find recruiting analogies in it. In a story on Mike Mayock, the new color commentator for NBC broadcasts of Notre Dame football, he was asked his thoughts on new Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly. Mayock talked about the current talent difference between schools like Southern Cal and Texas and Notre Dame, and then said, “What I’d like to stress is that it’s not Brian Kelly’s job to get players into the NFL. His job is to win college football games. And if he does that, I think the rest will follow.”

As the school year begins, always remember it is not the job of the High School, Club or AAU coach to get your kids college athletic scholarships. As I always say, there are coaches that do a heckuva lot, but their main responsibility is to build athletic programs that are successful and filled with values.

I spoke at Sullivan High School Athletics Parent Night recently and had a conversation with their Athletic Director Otto Clements. He said the major challenge parents have in recruiting is they are not sure if the college coaches are to come to them, or if they are supposed to go to the college coaches.

Young people need to be proactive. It is vital they start as early as possible in the process developing relationships with college coaches, and not waiting. Too often families wait for the colleges to discover their kid, or for their coach to take the lead in the process. Remember what Emmitt Smith said? Take advantage of your opportunities. Well, opportunities don’t always announce themselves. In recruiting, you HAVE to get educated first before you have a clue about the opportunities out there.

Otto’s other main observation was that parents usually don’t understand how elite the Division One athlete truly is. He said he had been at the school for over twenty years and that they had not had a Division One football player.

There were over 250 people at my Talk, and I saw many of the athletes. My eyeball test was that there were many that could play at some level of college. A major difference would be understanding the recruiting process.

Do you need help connecting with scholarships to play sports in College? If so, contact me here at


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