Anyone who has spent an extended period of time around Montell Owens knows that he is like a kid in a candy store when it comes to an opportunity to learn and better himself.
Whether it's practicing yoga, getting a manicure or pedicure, embracing his new love for golf, or fine-tuning his skills on the trumpet, Owens dives in headfirst. Of course, football is the priority and he has given his full attention to becoming one of the NFL's top special teams players.
Owens couldn't have asked for a better learning opportunity than last week as he spent four days at the Harvard Business School in Boston. The opportunity to learn from professors at the country's elite business school still has him smiling.
"I'm just extremely happy," Owens said Monday. "I can't be more thankful. It was incredible and enlightening. This is an opportunity that not a lot of people had, so I'm going to take advantage of it. I definitely don't take it for granted."
Owens was one of 77 NFL players to enroll in the 2009 NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program, a program designed to assist players for their post-playing careers. The program is a joint partnership between the NFL, the NFLPA and the country's most elite business schools. More than 500 players have participated in the program since its inception in 2005.
Owens joined 35 other active and retired NFL players at the Harvard Business School to participate in a program that addressed the business opportunities and challenges faced by current and retired NFL players.
The idea behind the program is to spread a plethora of topics over a one-week curriculum. A graduate of Maine, Owens saw the idea of attending business classes as a new thing in itself. He received a degree in biology so he wasn't used to sitting through detailed discussions on business operations, business plan analysis and negotiation.
As with anything Owens does, he went in with goal of improving himself. Prior to joining the Jaguars, he gave his post-playing career a lot of thought. It's hard to blame him considering the slim chances of an undrafted rookie making an opening day NFL roster.
Owens excelled in that first preseason to earn a spot that now has him entering his second year of a multi-year contract. Although there are more numbers in his bank account, he hasn't stopped planning for the future.
Owens had no preconceived notions of what to expect at the Ivy League school. The players woke each morning from their dorms on campus and had breakfast at 7:00 a.m., following by discussion groups with Harvard students. The students would help the players dissect their assignments from the day before and prepare for the upcoming lecture. All of this took place before class began at 9:00 a.m.
Forty NFL players in one room with a professor can invite a spirited discussion, which Owens says was the case every day. The professor presented a case study of a real business and every aspect of the business was examined. With the restaurant business a favorite among athletes, the group examined several business plans involving restaurants. The players weren't looking at examples, but real business plans.
"Professional athletes are always getting hit with different business ideas, something that someone wants us to be a part of," Owens said. "If we don't know how to truly dissect a business plan to see if it's going to be profitable or worth it, then we are going to be in a whole lot of trouble."
Several of the retired players, including kicker Morten Andersen, talked to the group about the importance of having a plan for the future.
"It really opens your eyes," Owens said. "To hear it out of their mouth, the NFL is not forever. This is just a pit stop. You are going to play football for a while and then you have to live the rest of your life. The program is really about figuring out what your passion is outside the game of football because a lot of guy, when football is over, they pretty much were left out to dry. They had never given life after the game a thought. What am I going to do when it's over with? I'm only going to be 30 years old. I can't sit at the house."
Owens' plan has been in place for years. He has a vision of opening a wellness academy in Jacksonville that caters to elite athletes, from professionals all the way to teenagers. He has researched the opportunities and sees a need for it across the country.
There will be specialized programs on how to run faster or get stronger, but Owens has an important issue that will be tackled.
"It's not just about trying to enhance their physical nature but also try to enhance their mental and spiritual," Owens said. "What we have right now is a dynamic of athletes that lack in character. You have a lot of extremely talented athletes but their character has not been developed. Nobody has really spent time with them to show them what a good character looks like. They are missing out on a lot of opportunities. They are talented, but they didn't make it."
Life in the NFL can give a player an unfortunate front row seat to watching the destruction of a player's life following his career. Even an athlete with all the skills and physical ability can go down the wrong path away from the field.
"It's not because they're not athletic enough," Owens said. "It's because they didn't have their heads on straight. They don't understand but at the same time, someone coming in and speaking to them in a seminar is not going to change them. You have to be part of a program where someone can add value into his life on a daily or weekly basis. The vision I have will help advance youth in a more efficient way instead of putting out great athletes, strong and fast, but all of sudden they don't make it and everybody is looking around not knowing what happened."
Other players involved in the program included Dallas Clark and Jamie Silva of the Colts, Jason Taylor of the Dolphins, and Seattle's Patrick Kerney and Olindo Mare.
Silva and Owens hit it off as "special teamers." Silva told Owens about his plan to build an indoor facility in Rhode Island where weather can prohibit athletes from getting the proper training year-round.
"You would be surprised how gifted some of these guys in the NFL are," Owens said. "A lot of people think you are just extreme athletes and you are out there running around on the field hitting people. When I was in class, some of the responses from these guys were just some profound stuff as far as ideas and concepts. Extremely smart and intelligent. I don't think there was anybody there just hitching a ride. Everybody there was motivated."
Attending classes for four days was not the end for Owens. He plans to reach out to the many contacts he made at the school and stay in touch throughout the NFL season.
"We have to get more guys to take advantage of it," Owens said. "I didn't think it was going to be as well-done as it was, but I give the NFL and NFLPA kudos for organizing it. They blew me away, and I'm a hard critic."