JACKSONVILLE – Here we go Jags…
Marcus Stroud, Greg Jones share experiences
For a rookie in the National Football League, there are so many new things to learn inside EverBank Field – environment, coaches, playbook, teammates – that life away from the building is easy to push aside.
It's the new fame, finances, temptations, friends and even new-found "family" that can either lengthen a player's career if balanced in the correct manner, or shorten it substantially if that player does not know how to manage a new lifestyle.
In addition, for many players, playing professional football is their first-ever paying job.
Each year, the Jaguars player development department brings in special guests to speak with rookies about obstacles that could interfere with that first job, their performance on the field and life away from football.
Last Wednesday afternoon, former Jaguars fullback Greg Jones and defensive tackle Marcus Stroud spoke with the rookies at EverBank Field in a private session that lasted nearly an hour. As a part of the meeting, I had the pleasure of moving the discussion forward, prodding two of the Jaguars' all-time greats with questions about topics both from inside and outside EverBank Field in their playing days.
Stroud played ten seasons (2001-10) in the National Football League, seven with the Jaguars and three with the Buffalo Bills. He signed a one-day contract to retire as a Jaguars player in June of 2012. Jones also played ten seasons (2004-13) in the NFL, nine with the Jaguars and one with the Houston Texans. He retired as a Jaguars player earlier in 2015.
Both had an incredible work ethic and ability when it came to the game of football, but it was their differences that made the interaction with the 2015 Jaguars rookies that much more interesting.
It is also noted in a number of publications accessible elsewhere that Jones and Stroud had somewhat different lifestyles away from the game. Jones was married with a child before the draft, and was at the building nearly constantly. Stroud was single, and a first-round draft pick from the Southeastern Conference in a new city with first-round money and temptations, but he was also named to three straight Pro Bowls.
Everything was open for discussion, good and bad. All specific questions and answers will remain off-the-record, for current players' and presenters' freedom, and a limited number of staff members were allowed in the meeting room.
I can tell you that the topics were wide-ranging, from financial investments to off-the-field lifestyle to locker room etiquette, and to hear it from two different ten-year veterans was eye-opening for the rookies in the room – and certainly this reporter.
As I never played in the National Football League, I have little personal knowledge of the demands, finances and interactions for rookie professional football players. Now going into my fourth season working for an NFL team, I have only a slightly better understanding through my interactions with some of the guys.
Until you play in the league, and collect that sometimes life-changing check, you might have an idea that the NFL lifestyle is glamorous 24 hours, seven days a week. The reality is often times much different. The time, effort and commitment to improvement that surviving as a player in the NFL – and continuing to receive that check – demands can sometimes stretch personal relationships to the breaking point, for example. There's a balance of working and improving as a football player, and living the lifestyle of a football player. It is a constant struggle for each player to figure out the best personal course of action.
Then, in a moment's notice, it can all be gone. Injuries, poor performance, distractions: they can all be career-ending, and leave a player trying to figure out Phase Two of his life.
The rewards are high, no doubt, but the demands, stresses and lifestyle needed to maintain those rewards in the National Football League are much more stressful than many might realize.
(Of note, in a similar session, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher visited Jaguars rookies in 2014.)
Telvin Smith increases awareness
Each summer, the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition holds a charity softball game at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, the home of the Double-A Jacksonville Suns across the street from EverBank Field.
The event raises awareness about infant mortality rates in Jacksonville and helps the coalition provide strategies to improve birth outcomes.
This year's honorary chairman for the event was Jaguars second-year linebacker Telvin Smith, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the softball game and plans to help with the group's new father's program.
"I have kids, and it's just how dads can be better fathers for their kids, fathers that are coming out of jail or fighting with child support issues and things like that," Smith said.
Each year local celebrities team up with medical professionals for the softball game to bring awareness to the cause.
"(I was) able to use my platform to come out in the community and bring awareness, so when they asked me to do it I was definitely on board," Smith said.
Smith threw a perfect strike with a softball from around 57 feet.
For more information, visit www.nefhealthystart.org.
For players and coaches in the fast-paced and competitive National Football League, time away from work with family and loved ones is precious.
Football people spend countless hours in meetings, game planning, watching film, and they generally live the game of football nearly 24 hours a day, especially during the season. There is a general paranoia of sorts that someone on another team could outwork you, and then beat you on Sunday.
Around the Jaguars, there are always long hours, meetings and football all day, but there is also a work/life balance for players and coaches.
Family is vital to each football person, whether it is mother, father, significant others or children. Family members are allowed at EverBank Field, and it has always seemed to be the case under General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley.
The Jags exhibited that idea again last Thursday by organizing a family barbeque day at EverBank Field after the sixth OTA practice. Each player and football staff member invited their entire family to the stadium to watch practice, and then eat lunch as a group.
"We talk a lot to our team about the importance of relationships," Bradley said before the barbecue. "Sometimes in the NFL you get away from that, and we stress the importance of it."
Kids played in a bounce house and enjoyed other activities, and DJ music filled the second floor of the U.S. Assure Club West as Jaguars families interacted throughout the afternoon.
The equation seems pretty simple: when families are happy and satisfied, then the player or coach supporting them is usually happy and satisfied, and therefore more productive.
Jaguars help Dreams Come True Dream Day
On Saturday, PRI Productions, an event production company in Jacksonville, held the annual Dreams Come True Dream Day, inviting over 30 children suffering from various illnesses to a party at the company's warehouse in the San Marco neighborhood.
Children were welcomed on a red carpet and started with a Willy Wonka-themed introduction that included a greeting from Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, safety Johnathan Cyprien, defensive end Tyson Alualu, defensive tackle Roy Miller and kicker Josh Scobee.
Once inside, the children enjoyed different rooms, as PRI employees dressed as super heroes or movie characters and DJs played music.