One of Urban Meyer’s primary tasks as Ohio State football coach is to get his football players focused and prepared to win games, and potentially a national championship, during the 2013 college football season.
All of those players, however, will eventually move on from being student-athletes at OSU. While some of those players may continue in OSU’s long line of sending players to the National Football League, most will have to quickly adjust to life after football.
Recognizing this, Meyer instituted a program for his players called “Real Life Wednesdays,” something he brought to OSU after instituting it prior to his final season at the University of Florida, according to OSU athletic spokesman Jerry Emig. During spring semester, speakers were brought in to talk to the team each week about a variety of issues that players will have to deal with in their lives after college football.
Many of the speakers brought in for the program were people who once sat in the same seats as the audience they were speaking to. Numerous former OSU football players were invited back to speak to the team, including Dee Miller (1994-98), Ryan Miller (1993-96) and Chris Spielman (1984-87).
Dee Miller and Ryan Miller both had to transition quickly away from their NFL dreams. Dee Miller was a sixth-round selection by the Green Bay Packers in the 1999 NFL draft, but never played in an NFL game. Ryan Miller was invited to training camp by the New York Jets after not being drafted, but he did not make the team’s roster.
Dee Miller, who works as a State Farm agent in Hilliard, Ohio, said he was “ecstatic” when Meyer called him and asked him to speak to the team.
“When reality hits you, when the football career is over with, it’s what have you done to prepare for life after football,” Dee Miller said in an interview with The Lantern. “I came back and was able to show guys, you know what, you can still have a pretty good life if you don’t make it in the NFL. I think that was important for them to see that, and they can relate to former players because I was them.”
Ryan Miller said he wanted to be a part of the program because of the valuable lessons he learned from former OSU football players, specifically Jim Lachey, during his own years with the Buckeyes.
“I can remember being in that same situation … and I thought it was unbelievably helpful and valuable,” Ryan Miller told The Lantern. “When (Meyer) asked me and talked to me about ‘Real Life Wednesdays,’ I just thought it was such a great idea that I wanted to be a part of it, and hopefully be a part of this for years to come.”
Dee Miller said he told the players that while their status as OSU football players will help them find career opportunities, they cannot rely on that status for post-football success.
“Ohio State will get you to the door, will get you to the interview, but once you get in the interview, it’s basically, how can you impact my company?” Dee Miller said. “I think it helps, but I think you also have to be prepared in what you think you’re about to get into so that Ohio State is able to help you.”
Ryan Miller, who is a founding partner of M2Marketing and co-founder of the 2nd & Seven foundation (along with OSU assistant coaches Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel), said he thinks OSU football players have an “advantage” other college students may not have because of resources like “Real Life Wednesdays.”
“They would have seen a lot of different things that they may had to have waited until they graduate to hear, so I think it’s an advantage without a doubt,” Ryan Miller said. “Having the opportunity is one thing. It’s what you do with that opportunity that really makes all the difference in the world. My hope is that it could for a majority of the kids, and they take some of these ‘Real Life Wednesdays’ to heart.”
Spielman, an ESPN broadcaster who was a two-time All-American at OSU, was able to continue his NFL career for 10 seasons. He said he focused on family and responsibility when he spoke to the team.
“I was trying to use my life experience to try to just show them the importance of taking responsibility,” Spielman said in an interview with The Lantern. “Football can teach you about being part of a team and being responsible to your team, but obviously a family is a much stronger, bigger team than a football team will ever be, especially if you’re a husband and a father.”
Spielman’s wife, Stefanie Spielman, passed away in 2009 following a battle with breast cancer. Chris Spielman is a father to four children.
Former OSU football players were not the only speakers the Buckeyes had access to this spring. Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell, Limited Brands chairman/CEO and former OSU Board of Trustees president Les Wexner and Clark Kellogg, a former OSU basketball player who is currently the Indiana Pacers’ vice president of player relations and a college basketball broadcaster for CBS, were among the other professionals who spoke to the team.
Harry Trombitas, a retired FBI special agent who is now a lecturer for OSU’s sociology department, was another speaker in the program. He said that like other students who are uncertain about their career paths, he encouraged the football team to “keep an open mind” if they are trying to figure out what career to pursue after football.
“They’re moving into the world of adulthood where they really have to start preparing for the rest of their lives,” Trombitas said. “It’s OK to have fun and do things in college like a regular college student would, but you really have to be careful of the choices that you make, and understand you’re setting the stage for what you’re going to do the rest of your life.”
Chris Spielman said there were not many programs specifically in place to teach life lessons during his time as an OSU football player.
“Life lessons were conveyed through my watching of my parents and watching people around me,” Chris Spielman said.
Dee Miller said that while OSU provided resources that student-athletes could take advantage of to prepare for life after football, there was not as much structure to providing those resources when he played for the Buckeyes.
“Back then, the focus on academics and life after football was not like it is today,” Dee Miller said.
Meyer and the OSU football program also brought a new opportunity to the players this year. Senior staff and human resource representatives from 57 businesses and organizations came to Ohio Stadium on Thursday for a student-athlete job fair, which was organized by the OSU football program.
The entire OSU football team and “as many as 50 to 75” student-athletes from other OSU sports teams attended the job fair, Emig said.
Nike, ESPN and IMG were among the organizations present, while NFL senior vice president of player engagement Troy Vincent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were also available at the job fair, according to a press release. Kasich also spoke to the football team prior to the job fair.
Ryan Stamper, Ohio State football’s coordinator of player development, said in a press release that every player on the team “had to have a new resume” for the job fair.
“Every player learned about resumes and key components of them, and then our staff, support services staff and academic advisors helped each one update their existing resume or create a new one,” Stamper said. “And every one of our players, including freshmen, had to have a list going into the job fair of four business areas or interests that they would like to speak with reps about and learn about.”
Redshirt senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said in the press release that the Buckeyes spent months preparing for the job fair.
“The speakers we’ve heard and the people we’ve spoken to (at the job fair) have given us real insight into the opportunities and careers we can strive for,” Mewhort said.