Most people - let's make that most fans - don't see Darius Hamilton the way he looks in the picture up top. They see him wearing a red uniform with a big 91 on the front. They see a silver, battle-scarred helmet. They see him breathing fire as he chases quarterbacks.
But he, and his peers, don't always wear helmets. They have faces. They go to class. They are concerned about their futures when football ends.
A recent Business Insider article highlighted the fact that successful people realize that they can't always go it alone and that social skills - including networking - are critical to being successful.
And Rutgers is working to help them address those concerns. On February 15, as the temps hovered in the teens and the drifted snow covered half of the field at Highpoint Solutions Stadium, some 40 current players connected with about the same number of football alums in a networking event in the Audi Club. As a letterwinner (lightweight football - two years!) I was able to participate. As were former players from the 60's through the most recent classes.
Rich Policastro, Jabu Lovelace, Lee Schneider, L.J. Smith, Wes Bridges, Kordell Young. There are names you may know from the past, maybe a few you don't. But they all came out to give back, to help Rutgers. To help student-athletes get a focus and a handle on where they can go and who they can turn to for help.
The event was organized by former player, and current Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development, Shawn Tucker. It was conducted with the help and support of the Football Letterwinners Association (FBLWA). On the Banks brought the FBLWA to your attention in a two-part series back in December.
This type of event isn't unique to Rutgers. Michigan, for example, does it as well. But this event was created with the Football Letter Winners initiative, and it was a way for the players to give back.
How'd I get here? And what did I find?
A few years ago, the Football Letterwinners decided to take in the Lightweight Football players, too. At 5'6" and 155 pounds, I played both offensive and defensive line. The scary part is that in 1971 when I first put on a scarlet helmet, I wasn't that much smaller than a lot of the "heavyweight" players. But I have two varsity letters and like the others, including my lightweight teammate Eric Vowinkel, I wanted to give back. So we joined the group of letterwinners talking with current players about their future and possible careers. Maybe even in the media.
Shawn Tucker had questions for us to respond to, but a lot of it was common sense along with sharing experiences. Reach out to those who've been there. Use the network that is football and athletics. Learn from others.
And from what Shawn wrote to participants the next day, it was well received by the players.
Last night was a special occasion to have some of our finest Knights back on campus interacting, inspiring and enlightening our current crop of junior and senior football players! It was phenomenal to see representation from the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, 00's and 10's taking time out on a Sunday to impart wisdom to our student-athletes.
Our internal football support staff have received nothing short of high-praise from the players on their overall experience. Without your commitment, successful inaugural events of this nature do not happen, so on behalf of Rutgers Football, The Rutgers Football Letterwinners Association, Varsity R and the Rutgers Leadership Academy we all say Thank You!
And I have to say, I was pretty impressed with the young men I got to interact with at the session. They weren't cocky athletes who shrugged at your comments and advice and rolled their eyes at your ideas. They took notes, they listened, they nodded understanding. I had the opportunity to speak with probably 18 or 20 players, including some younger ones - whom I didn't know - as well as some veterans. Couple of big dudes, kid named Carroo, another one named Hamilton. Both think they might play in the NFL. We'll see.
And I also talked with Nick Borgese (he's sharp - already connected with me on LinkedIn), Anthony Cioffi, Janarion Grant, Paul James (an IT guy) and Andre Patton, among others. They're sincere, committed, bright young men. I enjoyed meeting them and I enjoyed even more knowing they represent my alma mater.
This is the type of event that the Letterwinners want to continue doing. It is part of the Athletic Department's Leadership Academy, an effort to help develop life skills for the athletes after they are done competing. And even those who get to play at "the next level" aren't there forever; they all have a shelf life that eventually expires. I told a couple who were interested in broadcasting to get in touch with Ray Lucas or Sean O'Hara. And look at O'Hara: a walk on, he's a l champion and now a successful analyst for BTN and the NFL Network. Life after Rutgers....it's part of the package student-athletes get to understand with the help of the network that the FBLWA and Rutgers are putting together.
All photos courtesy of Shawn Tucker, used with permission