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"A foolish man learns through the experience of his own mistakes, but a wise man learns through the experience of others."
Eddie Mason, the former Redskins linebacker, now longtime athlete mentor and advisor, treats these words as scripture, and wants the young students he coaches to treat them that way, too.
Helping lead the inaugural NFL Prep Academy, an invitation-only program designed for 41 elite high school football student-athletes and their parent or guardian to teach the values of education, character, leadership, and community outreach, Mason continued his efforts of 12 years to share his experiences with those about to enter the game.
Held at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the four-day program featured variety of classroom presentations that include "Goal Setting," "Values," "Academic and Career Planning," "Healthy Relationships," "Life Beyond Football," and "Leadership & Character Development." Students were selected based on academic and athletic performance, character, civic involvement, and a coach's recommendation.
"It's not just a weekend event like it used to be where we just come into a city, do two days and then we're gone," Mason said. "What we want to try to do is make the environment more intimate, make it a little bit more engaging."
That means Mason will be constantly monitoring seven players assigned to him that live all around the country. Using a curriculum provided by The Jefferson Awards, Mason will follow a course plan for the next 12 months, checking in with students once or twice a month with basics about being a better leader, advancing in academics and engaging in the community.
"Basically what we're doing is bringing our life experience to the table alongside with these practical steps," said Mason, who was joined by former NFL players Garry Cobb, Steve Fitzhugh, Scott Galbraith, Freddie Scott and Tony Stewart.
"Those guys sitting in that room may be the next Division I stars and some of them may be the next NFL stars," Mason said. "So what we're doing is saying…what if we can reach back before they get to the latter part of high school, before they get to college, and we start making a mind shift and a culture shift in the heart of these men and helping them to see the bigger picture and value outside of the game?"
Redefining football's culture – amending character issues, academic issues, community issues and leadership issues – is something integral to Mason's post-football life, which has been dedicated to helpinplayers of all ages become better men.
This has manifested itself in academies like this and in his new *book, **Training For The Tough Game Of Life, which explores his trials as a football player and his discovery of a "playbook" for overcoming the adversity in life. * His workout facility in Loudoun County has allowed players professional training, too.
"When you do something it says it takes you ten thousand hours to become the greatest, and I have twelve years," Mason said. "That's more than ten thousand hours in training, mentoring and developing young men and young people as a whole. It really is an easy transition for me to get in there. It's really my passion."
The academy's students received advice about everything from peer pressure to social media, similar to what NFL players are currently experiencing at the Rookie Symposium, where Mason is also leading classes.
"There's really no stone being left unturned," Mason said. "I think ultimately at the end of the day it really is about trying to build the whole man, build a whole person and let them see the bigger picture so they're not caught up into identifying themselves solely as just a football player. You're more than that. You have value outside of just playing this sport."
The future of this kind of event is unclear, but Mason is hoping the success from this first academy will help its continuation next year.
"Nothing is guaranteed at this moment, but our heart and our mission and our goal is to ultimately keep this program going for the next however many years… Just have to make sure the decision-makers, the sponsors and all the people who are alongside of it, that we have all those pieces in place."