The Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation's annual luncheon for area high school football players featured more than hot dogs, hamburgers and chips. It also included some tough talk about what it takes to make it in the National Football League and in life.
The event last week, called 4th and Life, featured former and current Redskins Brig Owens, Darryl Grant, Rock Cartwright, Rich Parson and Derrick Frost. They used their experiences to illustrate the sometimes bumpy and indirect road to the NFL.
"It's about putting together your game plan," Owens, a former running back, told the teenagers. "It starts today."
More than 350 high school seniors from Maryland, Virginia and the District took part in the mega-pep rally at FedEx Field in Landover. The event is one of the foundation's signature community events. The foundation previously held a similar event for freshmen.
Last week's program was filled with no-nonsense talk from the players, who advised the students to go after their dreams of becoming professional athletes, but to get college degrees, too.
Cartwright, a running back, said he had a hard time making the grades he needed to realize his dream of being a football player.
"I couldn't pass the ACT test. I had to go to junior college," said Cartwright, who also talked of overcoming his size disadvantage -- he is 5 feet 7 inches tall -- to become a force on the field. "Be accountable. You have to take responsibility for your actions."
Frost told the group that for him success was a matter of perseverance. He said that after college he was cut by three teams before he landed a job as a punter for the Redskins. Before he went into the league, he said he wasn't even sure what position he wanted to play.
"Being cut was actually something good because it allowed me to earn a degree in economics," he said. "Football teaches you how to lose."
The tough talk was useful for Abdul Yusuff, 17, a senior at Northwestern High School, and Mark Russell of Gonzaga High School in the District, who wanted to know how the professionals got to the NFL and how they made the transition after college. Others wanted to know more about Terrell Owens, the outspoken Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver who was suspended for comments he made about his team.
Grant, who became a famous Redskin in the 1982 season, in which the Redskins won the Super Bowl, attempted to quell the curiosity over Owens.
"It's hard for me to relate to that," Grant said. "Back then, if we had a problem with someone, we went to that person, we didn't go to the media. He is a great athlete, but he cost himself a whole lot of money. You have to think before you speak."
The 4th and Life program is one of many sponsored by the Redskins. The team also hires and places "academic coaches" in high schools across the area and sponsors a literacy program called Redskins Read.
Craig Jefferies, head coach of the Dunbar High School football team in the District, said he was grateful to the Redskins for the 4th and Life program, particularly because it features former players who have moved their careers off the field.
"A lot of former football players that I know are now in law enforcement," Jefferies said. "That's a leadership role."
Adrian Moten, 17, a senior who plays outside linebacker for Gwynn Park High School, said he was glad he attended the program.
"So many kids don't have fathers," Moten said. "They need role models. These players can be role models for those who don't have dads."