Ten years ago, my dream came true. I was picked in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams.
I want to share a few reflections on that day, and some of the lessons I’ve learned since.
I still remember my draft day experience like it was yesterday. It was stressful. ESPN had a camera broadcasting from my home, and I remember being really anxious. I don’t think I put my phone down. I looked at it the whole time.
When it finally did ring, I felt so many emotions, all at once. Relief. Joy. Confusion. I didn’t anticipate that the St. Louis Rams would draft me. They had a great running back in Marshall Faulk, and he was still playing good football. And I definitely wasn’t thinking like a general manager or president, who might have been saying, “We need a successor.” My initial thought was that they didn’t think I could play right away.
I was thinking as a competitor, and wanted to vie for a starting a job instead of sitting back a year, getting familiar with the NFL season and what it takes to become a professional athlete. But it did a wealth of good for me to not have the pressure to start right away, and to learn from not only one Hall of Famer, but several on that team in Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, and future Hall-of-Famers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
REVISITING THE DRAFT
If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have the cameras on me on draft day. I would just be somewhere with my family, waiting for the phone call in private instead of having it air it for the world to see.
That would be my biggest piece of advice to a potential draftee going forward.
Every person is different. Our dreams and our visions are all different. So I understand why some would want to go to New York. For me, it just added an extra layer of stress — especially when I didn’t come off the board as quick as I thought I would.
Another word of advice I would give to young players is this: If you’re going to leave early, stay registered at a school for the very next offseason. We all say, “I’ll go back and get my degree later.” But the further you get away from school, life starts to happen and responsibilities begin to pile up. Getting back to school is not as easy as you think it will be when you’re 22 – or in my case, 20 years old.
Football — or any other job — should never define a person. Be defined by what your interests are, who you are and the character that you show. Those things speak volumes about you, far more than just what you do professionally to make a living does alone. When you live above the fray, you tend to have more success in your post career.
Finishing your degree isn’t a sign of a lack of confidence in yourself. Honestly, I always dreamed that I could have a long and illustrious career like I’ve had. But I was also bracing myself for what I could do next if things didn’t work out.
I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to play for so long, and to continue to do so at a high level. The things that I’ve been able to do in my career are things I always hoped to achieve.
Honestly, if someone told me 10 years ago this is where I’d be 10 years later, I don’t think I would have been shocked. I would have been in agreement with them. I knew I was talented enough and hungry enough to be successful in the NFL. I just wasn’t quite sure, with the game being what it is, if I would be able to stick around as long as I have.
I’m very fortunate and very thankful that I have.