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New program tries to mentor players on post-football careers

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While NFL labor strife has put next season in jeopardy, one league executive is trying to ensure that players think about their futures beyond the playing field.

Troy Vincent, a former NFL veteran and five-time Pro Bowl defensive back, just completed the first football academy designed to help current players interested in pursing post-playing careers in coaching and administration make that transition.

"I think football should not be Plan A. Education is what allows you to have financial freedom," Vincent said this week. "During my entire 15-year career, I was fortunate to have people around me that reminded me to think about my next step beyond football. Sadly, many players aren't ready for what's next after they stop playing. (The NFL) wanted to make sure we had another resource to help our players live out their dreams and aspirations."

Vincent, now the NFL's vice president of player development, was one of the driving forces in putting together the inaugural NFL-NCAA Football Academy, which concluded a four-day symposium in Orlando on Wednesday. The joint initiative brought together 30 current and former NFL players and included seminars by former coaches and NFL executives.

Featured speakers included longtime NFL coaching veteran Dan Reeves, current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and former Washington Redskins general manager Charley Casserly. The workshops included sessions on personal branding, networking and managing budgets. The players also were taken through mock interviews.

Vincent said they received more than 100 applications, which were narrowed down by looking at things as simple as if they were filled out correctly and if players had gotten the requested recommendations. He estimated that about 75 percent of those who applied met the established criteria of the selection panel.

The league has similar programs for players interested in becoming broadcasters and announcers, but this is the first geared toward introducing players to the tools necessary for careers as coaches and executives.

"To have 100 apply, that was definitely on the high side," Vincent said. "It meant we identified something that was a need among our players. They're they ones that helped us develop our great game to what it is today. Now we're addressing a need they have with a long-term objective."

The academy's first class has players as young as Kansas City Chiefs two-year veteran Reshard Langford and as old as former Buffalo Bills defensive end Keith McKenzie, who retired in 2004.

Miami Dolphins cornerback Nate Ness believes establishing the academy was a no-brainer for the league.

"It's a natural fit," Ness said. "I just always wanted to be a coach and always be a mentor. God blessed me to be in this position, and I want to be able to help somebody else out when I'm done playing. (At Arizona) coach Mike Stoops and the coaching staff cared about the players and they really influenced me. They showed me how being a coach, you can change the lives of so many athletes."

Ness said he has had his notebook and pen out a lot this week with a realization that his time on the field could be over at any time.

"I'm happy I'm not the youngest guy here," Ness said. "Football doesn't last that long. The average career is three years, and you have to have other things to fill that void when you can't play. There's going to come a year when you get hurt or have to walk away from the game and pursue something else."

Vincent said with the high interest, the league plans to host multiple seminars during the calendar year in the future to accommodate more players. The league also plans to reach out to the American Football Coaches Association, Black Coaches Association and Fritz Pollard Alliance to get involved.

Former Houston Texans tight end Jeb Putzier said he hopes this program will help players feel more comfortable in making their post-playing transitions as well.

"A lot of football players lives are just structured around playing football," he said. "So many guys do have problems making the transition. The NFL has put a high priority on people learning how to do it. It sounds so basic, but having that freedom is actually hard on players. This is putting a priority on guys knowing what do when they are finished playing."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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