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Florida Gators football staff teaches players life skills

GAINESVILLE — Ordinarily, Tuesdays would have been all business.

With only 15 days to incorporate new players, coaches and potential plays for next fall, Florida coach Urban Meyer and his staff didn't have a lot of time for anything not football related during last month's spring practices.

But somewhere along the line, that master plan took a detour.

"Better" didn't mean just on the field. Well-known for bringing in former players and other guests to rally the players in spring and fall preseason, Meyer threw in a new plan that even surprised his players: a life-skills program to help them learn to budget, save and prepare for life away from the gridiron.

"With this economy, most of the players don't have a grasp on how hard it is out there right now," Meyer said. "And so what we did was take football time and (spend it) teaching them about how to go get a job and all the stuff this university can do for you as far as make you job-worthy or get you prepared. We're really making a big push with these kids."

While the players have participated in life-skills programs through the athletic department's Office of Student Life, what made this endeavor unique was its timing: Tuesdays before practice began. The message they hoped to impart was a player's life is just as important as this game.

"We felt that if we took football time away, they would see it's very important," said Terry Jackson, Florida's director of player and community relations who helped coordinate the program. "It's a tough commitment with all the things we ask them to do. But to actually take away from that time and say we're going to deal with some other stuff, other than football, it lets them know that it's really important to us, too."

The program emphasized issues ranging from work ethic, developing communication and interpersonal skills, resume building and community relations.

"A lot of guys came in and told us a lot of different things, but one of the ones that … kind of hit everybody is when one told us that only 3 percent of guys make it to the NFL," junior safety Ahmad Black said. "So I think that opened everybody's eyes as a reminder that you've got to stay focused on school because you've got to have something to fall back on.

"Everybody thinks about the NFL, and that's all we want to do. We don't think about that type of stuff until it hits us in the face. It was real beneficial to remind us of what's ahead of us."

To ensure the players got caught up in the message, not the messenger, speakers weren't ex-Gators who went on to superstar NFL careers but those who are successful outside the spotlight.

Players such as former team captain Willie Rogers, a Miami Carol City native who is a pharmaceutical representative, and Lawrence Hatch, a bank executive who came to Florida from Compton, Calif., as a junior college transfer, was drafted in 1993 and played five seasons in the NFL before returning to Florida to earn his degree in 1998.

"The one thing I said to them is I've been where you are now and I've been where you want to be," said Hatch, 37, a vice president/private world adviser with SunTrust. "When you're looking at it from a broader scope, football is a small microcosm of life.

"And … there are very few players, very few, that play a 10-year career that never, ever have to do anything the rest of their life. So you still have to be able to utilize some skill sets. It was good to reinforce that message during spring football."

The program also included sessions on budgeting and finance, which stemmed from Meyer's concern that his players are walking around in their own world while the rest of the nation struggles with the economic downturn.

"These kids don't know what it's like," Meyer said. "One of the problems with college athletics is kids leave here and … they keep asking for their scholarship. And you see so many professional athletes just blow their money because they weren't taught. So we're teaching them right now. It's really strong stuff."

Jackson said he can already see an impact. Nineteen players attended a recent Student Advisory Committee meeting, which normally draws two or three.

"You're not going to reach everybody, but I think already we've gotten a pretty good response," he said. "Hopefully, it will sustain."

Florida Gators football staff teaches players life skills 05/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 9, 2009 11:30pm]
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