My family and I have been spending time in Ohio this week with tomorrow’s NFL stars at the league’s rookie symposium. As one of the panelists, it is quite a honor to be invited to offer words of encouragement and wisdom. The lessons I learned at my rookie symposium in 2000 stuck with me throughout my career.

This year, there have been some great messages from guys like Terrell Owens and Adam Jones. It’s never an easy task to tell young guys how badly you messed up — especially talking to rookies who are likely bored by the all-day meetings — but these two really opened some eyes with their accounts.

At the rookie symposium I attended in 2000, players like Ray Lewis, Ronnie Lott and Marcus Allen sent strong messages about not being part-timers and respecting the game. They talked about the players who came before us — the ones who made it possible for us to enjoy the luxuries we had — and made it very clear that if we didn’t train hard, give back and conduct ourselves the right way, we would only be part-timers, and only part-timers could ruin an opportunity like playing in the NFL. Some of my fellow rookies were offended by the words that were being fired at us.

In retrospect, I’m glad the veteran players spoke to us so forcefully. Without advice from the players who did it and did it well, rookies would be left to figure things out on their own. The small amount of time that those men took to speak to us went a very long way with me. They could’ve been anywhere doing something other than giving back, but they weren’t. They were in the trenches fighting the good fight so that we respected the game and avoided pitfalls that they encountered in their lives.

I was truly proud to be in their presence to hear their words. Now it’s my turn.

I get excited every time I’m contacted to speak at the symposium, not just to give back to these young men but simply because I never stopped being a fan of the game and the players involved with it.

I’m glad I listened to what those old-school guys told us. Their words helped me put a plan together to be a success both on the field and off it. Now I try to keep their words alive every chance I get, carrying the torch until someone else grabs it from me and does the same.

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