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Rookies Get Message At NFL Symposium

Posted Jul 3, 2013

Draft class closes offseason with lessons for off-the-field

Cardinals' draftees pose for a picture at the recent Rookie Symposium. From left back, Stepfan Taylor, D.C. Jefferson, Alex Okafor, Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Minter and senior drector of player development Anthony Edwards. Seated middle, Andre Ellington and Earl Watford. Front, Tyrann Mathieu.

Tyrann Mathieu had heard many of the speeches before, even talked to many of the same people long before his fellow draft class mates sat down to hear their stories.

Yet the Cardinals’ third-round pick, in Aurora, Ohio, last week as part of the NFL’s annual Rookie Symposium, embraced the message being delivered.

“I didn’t look at it redundant, I looked at it as more people trying to help me,” Mathieu said. “My process is a bit different than the rest of the rookies there. For me, it was an experience I needed.”

In reality, the Rookie Symposium is something all the new players need as they enter the NFL, even if some don’t fully understand that going in. The league talks to the players about resources they have at hand being in the NFL, talks to them about taking care of their money, and their roles beyond the field as parts of their new communities and ambassadors for the league itself. There is a trip to the Hall of Fame in Canton to get a feel for the history of the league.

At the symposium’s core, though, is that each player’s story is still being written, and that each player controls how that plays out. The rookies hear cautionary tales from players who have made mistakes or fumbled away opportunities. Just being drafted doesn’t mean the journey to be an NFL player has ended. It’s a message coaches often deliver on the field, but it applies off the field as well.

“To be honest, before I came out there, I was thinking it was going to be stuff I had already heard and I figured it would be boring,” said linebacker Kevin Minter, the Cards’ second-round pick. “But the experience, just being a part of it, it was really empowering.

“I got more out of it than I thought I would.”

Every team’s draft class is required to attend (undrafted rookies do not go), with the AFC players going in the first wave and the NFC coming in after. Much is made of the fact that more than half the rookies won’t last more than three or four seasons, but both Minter and Mathieu said the approach was for the players to work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“This is our dream,” Minter said. “You don’t want to go in thinking you’re just going to play four or five years, because then you’ll only play three or four years. On the other hand, you do have to think about your future. The symposium showed us all the different programs they have available to us as far as education. Football won’t be there our whole life and you still have plenty of years left after football.

“But nobody wants to play five years. Everyone wants to be a 10 or 12-year veteran and have that statue in the Hall of Fame. That’s how I see myself. I want to be like that. I can’t think ‘Four or five years.’ That’s not even in my line of sight right now.”

Mathieu is fighting more of an uphill battle in that sense, given his past troubles with drugs. Among the speakers was former NBA player Chris Herren, who probably could have built a solid NBA career if he hadn’t battled drug problems, and Bengals defensive back Adam “Pacman” Jones, who has had to fight his own troubles to stay in the league. Mathieu had already had a chance to meet and talk with both before the Symposium.

Mathieu had also already talked to former Cardinals star cornerback Aeneas Williams, who was one of the speakers. Williams, of course, had an exemplary career, and NFL senior vice president of player engagement Troy Vincent emphasized to the Boston Globe the intent was to drive positive encouragement to the rookies. Even the speakers who had made mistakes were there to talk about how they had learned.

That makes sense to Mathieu, who is trying to build his own redemption story.

“I try not to put those negative thoughts in my head, that I’d be out of the league in three years,” Mathieu said. “(Former Pro Bowl safety) Brian Dawkins and Aeneas Williams said it best:  Stop saying you’re going to go broke, stop saying you’re going to be out of the league, start speaking things into existence. Positive things.”

The Cardinals already likely have positive plans for most of their draft class anyway, at least for now. Coach Bruce Arians isn’t shy about using younger players, and Mathieu, Minter and first-round pick Jonathan Cooper all are expected to play significant roles this season.

With that backdrop, the Rookie Symposium was another step toward preparing the rookies for that scenario.

“For me, (the Symposium) was real educational, inspiring and one of those reality checks,” Mathieu said, “and I’ve had a few of those since I’ve become an Arizona Cardinal.”


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