*This is the first in a series of stories that will run throughout the year on the Jaguars Player Development Program and the 2006 Jaguars rookie class. *
Training camp is less than a month away for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the club's 2006 rookie class has been getting an introduction to the life of a professional athlete since their arrival on the First Coast in early May.
As part of the club's player development program, all 17 members of the rookie class have been participating in the Jaguars Rookie Club. The club was created by head coach Jack Del Rio when he took over the helm in 2003. Executive Director of Football Operations Skip Richardson and Manager of Player Relations and Youth Football Bahati Van Pelt oversee the program on a daily basis.
"It builds camaraderie among the rookies," Van Pelt said. "It gives them a chance to learn about each other because they will lean on each other as much or more than they will the veterans especially during training camp. They are all going through the same thing and they have never been through this before."
The Rookie Club held its first meeting on May 11 and has continued with various events and lectures including:
• Financial Topics and Budgeting meeting led by David Kossak of The Kossak Company
• Visit to the Wolfson Children's Hospital where they greeted patients and signed autographs
• A trip to the Baseball Grounds to see the Jacksonville Suns
• Life as a Rookie Seminar which included several members of the 2005 Rookie Class talking about their experiences
• "Got Skills" Youth Football Clinic on the practice fields at Alltel Stadium
• Visit to the Mayport Naval Station
The meetings are scheduled around workouts and are limited to once a week. The topics are wide-ranging and involve numerous guest speakers. Van Pelt wants to make sure all possible questions and situations are touched on such as:
• How do you approach a veteran about how you learn to study film?
• How do you go about finding an apartment?
• What decision do you make between buying a house and renting an apartment?
• How do you deal with friends and family asking you for money?
Members of the Jaguars 2006 Draft Class returned to Jacksonville on Thursday from San Diego where they attended the 10th Annual Rookie Symposium. The six players spent four days on the West Coast participating in various workshops and attending life skills seminars as they prepare for their rookie seasons. It was not a vacation. The players were up early each morning and didn't finish meetings until 10:00 p.m.
The rookies heard from NFL veterans such as New York Jets running back Curtis Martin, Atlanta Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, Cleveland Browns defensive end Willie McGinest and former Houston Texans General Manager Charlie Casserly. Topics discussed included personal finance, player development, substance abuse, media policies and personal conduct.
"There are things that are covered at the symposium that we don't cover like safe sex and HIV," Van Pelt said. "I know they are going to get that at the symposium. A lot of those guys have heard it at the college level through the NCAA. We only have a limited amount of time to spend with them.
"We don't want to overload them especially during the voluntary workouts. They are here busy trying to learn their playbooks. You still want to give them free time where they can learn the city. Go to the mall or do something that is relaxing to them."
The rookies currently spend four days a week at Alltel Stadium with the veterans participating in the club's offseason conditioning program. They are living in an area hotel and will be until the end of offseason workouts on July 14. When they report to training camp on July 28, they will reunite again as roommates. The veterans get their own rooms at training camp.
Van Pelt said all the rookies are attentive during the meetings, but following their rookie seasons is when they really appreciate the Jaguars Rookie Club.
"There are some things you have to learn by experience," Van Pelt said. "We really try to help them understand the business part of being a professional football player. I can't teach them how to blitz. I can't teach them how to catch.
"A lot of the second-year guys say they didn't think it would happen to them or you sit in the room and say all those things are not going to happen to me and they did. They do happen to you. You are going to deal with those things and we just try to help you be prepared for them when they do come up."