Rookie safety Will Allen absorbed lessons of personal and financial responsibility at Ohio State before entering the NFL
A year ago, Dallas Clark and Ricky Manning were among the attentive students at the NFL's Rookie Symposium. This summer, they're the teachers.
Apparently, Clark and Manning gained enough perspective in one year to be of value to men barely their juniors, an indication of how life-changing one's rookie season in the NFL can be. And that's exactly why the National Football League conducts its Rookie Symposium, now in it's eighth year...and, in fact, makes it mandatory for all drafted players.
Thus, hundreds of this year's rookies convened in San Diego on Sunday for a four-day primer in the challenges that lay ahead. The symposium is designed to help the rookies adapt successfully to their new lifestyle by covering such issues as finances, personal conduct, substance abuse, life after football and league security.
Among the attendees are all eight players drafted by the Buccaneers in April, including Will Allen, a fourth-round pick out of Ohio State. Allen was already familiar with many of the lessons being stressed in San Diego, having been through similar programs at OSU, but even the repetitive messages were worthwhile. Though his attendance was required, he was still impressed that the league would go to such lengths to help its rookies assimilate to their new lives.
"It's a good event," said Allen on Monday, during a break between meetings. "It's very, very informative. You learn a lot – some stuff you already know, some stuff you don't know. It's just good to see people who really care about your well being for the upcoming year. They're teaching you some new things and reiterating some facts that, although you already know them, are very helpful."
For Allen, the symposium is part of a continuing education that began in Columbus and has carried on in Tampa. He was counseled in finances and personal responsibility as a Buckeye, and he has already been a part of several financial meetings as a Buccaneer. Under the direction of Director of Player Development Cedric Saunders and with the explicit blessing of the coaching staff, the Bucs have made it a priority to give their rookies every tool necessary for their success.
Allen knows that, despite all of these efforts across the NFL and at some of the nation's more proactive universities, some young players still don't get the message. The average NFL career is less than four years, and even the most sizable salaries can be squandered by the man who isn't careful.
"A lot of guys don't learn this stuff in college," said Allen. "That kind of thing can happen to anyone. It's not necessarily shocking, but it's reality, and that kicks in at meetings like these. A lot of guys will listen to it and take heed, but some won't. It's a definite thing you need to take heed of, because it is real, and it can happen to you at any moment if you don't watch the people around you and if you don't watch how you spend money and how you save it."
Clark and Manning were speakers at a roundtable discussion that Allen found particularly informative. A panel of second-year players were on hand to give first-hand and very fresh accounts of what it is like to be a rookie in the NFL. The speakers were chosen to give the rookies a wide variety of experiences. For instance, Manning went from a third-round pick to a starter for the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers by the end of the year, while Clark suffered a season-ending injury just as he was getting into the flow of the Indianapolis Colts' offense.
"We had a little bit of players across the spectrum and we heard their perspectives on their rookie seasons, so we were able to see it from almost every angle," said Allen. "It was definitely helpful, the advice they were given on the ins and outs of how to conduct yourself."
Of course, the four days in San Diego also give Allen a chance to catch up with some of his former Buckeye teammates and the other young players he has met in recent months. San Diego also makes for a nice spot in which to relax, a bonus for players like the visiting Buccaneers who just came off a three-day mini-camp. This week is the first of five that Tampa Bay's players have off before they report to training camp on July 30.
Allen isn't going to take it too easily, however. He knows that the Bucs' veterans will maintain their personal fitness programs over the next five weeks and hit camp in top shape. Allen feels an obligation to do the same.
"I have to make this team and fill whatever role that may be, whether it's on special teams or defense," he said. "And I have to be ready for that. I have to be ready for a new and quicker game and a longer season. I have to do my part for the veterans, for myself and for the organization. That's a responsibility I have to meet."
That's a mindset that matches the main points the NFL is trying to get across this week. Allen hears it loud and clear.
"The particular message is just responsibility, accountability and discipline," he said. "That's what it's going to take to be successful in life, not just in football."