The NFL draft is quickly approaching. Tomorrow, Thursday, April 29, 2021, is the first day where 32 young men will be selected to play on a level they have dreamed of for a long time. Over the following two days, rounds 2 through 7 will take place. Some players will get picked up into extraordinary situations, and others not so much.
For me, this was quite a wild ride. To start, I planned out my graduation from Mizzou, so I would be done that winter and could then focus solely on preparing for the NFL draft. I graduated before playing in our bowl game that year, the Alamo Bowl, against Northwestern University. As luck would have it, I broke the outside bone in my left foot—the 5th metatarsal, at the end of this game. I had to have surgery to have this repaired shortly after.
During the bowl game preparation, I started the process of meeting with NFL agents and financial advisors. The agent would highlight my accomplishments and put me in the best situation for NFL teams to choose me as opposed to someone else. As my eligibility ended and the reality set in that, I would become a professional. My financial advisor would help coach me another way since I would be coming into significantly more money than I had ever dealt with before. This experience was eye-opening for me. I had no idea what questions to ask or where even to start. I had put my head down and focused so hard on the things I needed to do to put myself in this situation. I had not spent time working on these types of details. I had a draft to prepare for, and so I put my head back down to get ready for the part I knew best.
I was fortunate to have my father, who played in the NFL for 11 years. He was able to be my gatekeeper through this process. He would search out and vet the people we talked with and asked many questions that he thought would be helpful to the best of his ability. He had a good understanding of what life in and around professional sports was like, which was a massive help to me as I went through this process. It allowed me the time to focus on my job and continue to heal.
After the bowl game and broken foot, I talked with each of the agents I interviewed and prayed about and decided to hire the one I thought was best. He then was able to walk me through the next part of the process. Foot surgery! During this time frame, I picked a financial advisor to begin helping me be the best steward of the money I would be receiving. With only two weeks of recovery time, I was off to New Haven, Connecticut, the home of Yale University, and the Walter Camp All-American weekend and banquet that I was named to post-season.
From there, I flew straight to Phoenix, AZ, where I would be rehabbing and training to prepare for the NFL Combine and Mizzou pro day where I could showcase my talent. The facility I used is where athletes from all different sports and worldwide come to work with the best trainers. They had a proven track record of all-stars that came through their facility to work, learn, and prepare for their next steps. I was going to add my name to that list!
When I arrived until the day I left, my training was different from the rest of the athletes at the facility because of my foot injury. I could not walk without a boot. I could not run, could not jump, could not practice my position drill- all things that were weighing on me as each day went by and the draft neared. Through this, I just tried to remind myself to control the things I can control, get better today at what I could, and that my college film would show my value if I could not work out.
A bonus to being there was the warm weather early in the year compared to Missouri and the opportunity to make a little side money by signing autographs for football card companies and a few other small marketing and endorsement deals. I put this straight into savings at the advice of my financial advisor. I had little expenses I needed to cover.
As the combine approached, my foot was nowhere close to healing, which would not allow me to perform at a high level. I went to Indianapolis and went through all 32 of the team's doctors to see how my health came along. In my compression shorts and little else, I went to one room after another. I was doing similar things for each set of team physicians. I also had the opportunity to talk with coaches and scouts throughout the event. Still, I was not participating in the drills, which was a big letdown. I had worked so hard to get to this point. Still, I had to tell myself that this does not matter as much as when I finally had the opportunity to play again for whatever team that may be. The combine came and went, and I left to go back to Phoenix to continue my rehab and training in preparation for the Mizzou pro day. There would be another opportunity, if healthy, to do the same drills that ran at the combine. Again, that day came and went, and I did the same thing - talked to the coaches and scouts and not much more. It was another very frustrating time.
As I tried to do my best throughout this already stressful time, I had all kinds of draft analysts projecting me to be taken at this number, that number, this team, or that team. You do not have much choice where you will be selected, especially at this point. You must let the analysts talk. What you can do is continue to put in the work, rely on the work you have already put in, and wait for what will happen at the draft and beyond.
After Mizzou's pro day, I went back to live with my parents and work out independently for the last couple of weeks before the draft. It seemed like each day took forever, and it was tough not to let all the voices out there get into my head and telling me who I would be as an NFL player.
Finally, Draft Day arrived. In 2009, the first day of the draft had the 1st and 2nd rounds chosen. The rest of the rounds, 3-7, would be the following day. I spent the first day at my parent's home with some close friends and family, watching the draft, and I could not help but judge every player that got drafted before me. As the first night drew to a close with no calls, it was a disappointing feeling. To be drafted right away is what I had hoped after having a decorated college career as I had just finished. The next day I woke up and again spent the day with some close friends and family as they began round 3. Surely it would not be long now. With each pick, I grew a little tenser. Finally, I got a call, and from an area code I knew, Kansas City. They had just traded future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and were in the market for a tight end. Finally, the call for which I had been waiting! Nope, just a friend that had gotten a new number and called to wish me luck. Haha. As the end of the 3rd round neared, my phone rang again, and it was Head Coach Marvin Lewis from the Cincinnati Bengals. He told me that if the two teams left to make selections picked who they thought they would, they were picking me. That is how it happened. With the 98th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected me.
I felt this huge weight lift off my shoulders. The uncertainty was over. I did not have to worry about waiting anymore. I could now start my process to learn as much about the Bengals, their offense, and the team as I could, so when camp started, I considered myself prepared for my new NFL journey.
Through the entire experience, and now being able to look back objectively at how it turned out, I have reflected on how this time in my life went. The what-ifs, the should-haves, would-haves, and could-haves, and anything else that I could control or even that was not in my control. The biggest takeaway, God controls a lot more than me, and even I could not control as much as I thought.
I know I did well by continuing to put in the work that had gotten me to this point. Even if I was injured and unable to do everything the way I had envisioned, God still worked it out. Now I had to get serious about the other aspects of my life. My signing bonus and first contract were good ones. This is where my financial advisor would come into the picture. I had to quickly figure out what I would do with this new money. I had picked the advisor and agent-based on relationships I had already or with a mutual contact, the potential for the connections to grow, and of course, their track record or client base. There are more questions I will share later.
My father was a blessing throughout the process. The fact that he had played helped me make some critical choices before my first season. He had taught me to live within my means and that most of the money from my contract should go straight into saving for the future, with a small portion budgeted for monthly expenses. He knew what I would one day find out, NFL football careers start when you are young and often end when you are young. My father's advice helped me successfully operate my finances. Following his advice is one of the best decisions I have made —even 4 ½ years out of the NFL with a family of 5 and a new career.
If I could go back, the things I wish I would have done better were to be clear with my financial advisor. I wanted to understand what I was investing in at the time. I expected him to teach me more or give me easy-to-understand information so I could educate myself. I wanted to understand his process and how he invested my money.
I needed an advisor to explain all the risks you take with certain investments and how suitable they were, and why they should be a part of the mix. Additionally, I expected to go over the fees I paid in actual dollar amounts instead of percentages.
You should expect more from your financial advisor; I consider them lessons learned in life. These things fuel my passion, teaching others by sharing my experiences and sharing information that empowers people to make good choices. Lessons like these are what led me to my current team.
My story led me to BMG Advisors; this is my story, it is what excites me every day, and it is why I am a financial advisor.