In the fall of 1998, Clinton Portis visited the University of Miami--the "U," as he calls it--as a prospective football player. At one point during his visit, he found himself standing beside All-American running back Edgerrin James, who was preparing to enter the NFL Draft after the college football season was over.
James asked Portis, "So are you coming to Miami?"
Portis replied, "Are you going to the NFL? If you're going to the NFL, then I'm going to Miami."
James's response is something that Portis has always carried with him.
"It shouldn't matter if I go to the NFL or not, you should still come to Miami because you want the competition," James told Portis. "Competition can only bring out the best in you."
Portis relayed that story on Tuesday at the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation's annual 4th & Life high school football forum at FedExField. Sponsored for the second year by Coca-Cola, the forum helps student-athletes prepare for life beyond the gridiron.
Nearly 1,000 high school senior football players and their coaches from 40 area schools attended the forum.
In addition to Portis, offensive lineman Randy Thomas, tight end Robert Royal and former Redskins wide receiver Irving Fryar spoke at the forum. Linebacker LaVar Arrington left a videotaped message from Alabama, where he is getting treatment for his injured knee.
Players led an interactive discussion with the high school seniors--many of whom were wearing their football jerseys--about a variety of issues that student-athletes face on and off the football field.
"Life is what you make of it," Portis said. "You can point the finger at somebody else or you can look yourself in the mirror and say it's on you. You carry yourself to where you want to go."
Players stressed that playing football at the NFL level was a difficult achievement and not a goal that is realistic for most youth.
Thomas challenged the youth to make sure they had their priorities in line before pursuing their NFL dream: "In your journey to get to this league, how about you set out to achieve some other goals, such as a diploma, a college degree and respect from your coaches and teachers?"
Added Arrington: "Not everyone at this forum is going to make it to the NFL. But don't let anybody tell you that you can't make it to the NFL. Go out with a fight. Always do the best that you can do. And if you don't make it to the NFL, you'll carry that [attitude] over to whatever else you decide to do with your life."
Fryar, who played for the Redskins in the 1999-2000 seasons and was a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in 17 NFL seasons, added a serious tone to the forum. Fryar is an ordained minister and speaks to youth groups across the country about making the right choices in life.
"I know a lot of us here have come from difficult backgrounds," he said. "Sometimes it's somebody else's fault why we start where we start in life. But it's your fault if you stay there."
4th & Life is one of the Charitable Foundation's signature community programs. Founded by Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder, the mission of the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation is to use the assets of the Redskins and its corporate and community partners to make a positive and measurable impact on youth in the Washington, D.C., region in youth development and education.
In addition to the forum, the Charitable Foundation has partnered with Junior Achievement to create curriculum guides that have been sent to more than 5,000 high school students participating in the 4th & Life program.