NCAA football symposium prepares elite college athletes for path to pros

From the stands of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, a few rows of current college football players watched the 2022 NFL combine as if they were looking into their future. In a year, most of them will likely be the ones on the field auditioning for the NFL.

For now, they’re preparing for that opportunity. Last weekend’s NCAA Elite Student-Athlete Symposium for Football gave those players a road map for the next year of their lives. The symposium for high-profile college players with eligibility remaining provided insight about transitioning to the NFL, managing life as a professional and thinking about life beyond football. Players were accompanied by a representative from their school for the three-day event, which was put on by the NCAA leadership development staff in collaboration with the enforcement staff.

“I think it was a really eye-opening experience, being able to firsthand see and feel and understand what people are looking for when I’m trying to get to the next level,” said Jake Haener, a senior quarterback at Fresno State. “I think it was a great opportunity for me. I’m hoping to learn from it and apply it to my everyday life back in Fresno.”

The NCAA has held the Elite Symposium for Football since 2017 and hosts a similar symposium for draft prospects in basketball each fall. The football symposium resumed this year in person after being canceled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Student-athletes are invited to the symposium after NCAA staff members consult with coaches, athletics administrators, professional sports officials and other experts closely linked to draft prospect lists. Many former participants have experienced success in the NFL, including 2021 Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year winners Ja’Marr Chase and Micah Parsons, respectively.

This year’s attendees, representing 17 schools, engaged with several prominent speakers with NFL experience on the field and in the front office, as well as NCAA leaders and various subject matter experts. The speakers covered topics such as the scouting process, agents, financial management, film review, social media, rules on the NFL draft, academic eligibility, and professional development strategies beyond football.

“I really loved the experience,” said Richard Jibunor, junior linebacker at Troy. “Going into this journey, I’ve been hearing about a lot of things and just having ideas of what I could go through… but being at this event really opened my mind because we were talking to current NFL players, retired NFL players who have been through all of this process. Hearing it directly from them is really, really different. It really made me feel smarter and have a better understanding of what I’ll be going through. ”

Attendees engaged in a panel discussion with former student-athletes with NFL experience, highlighted by former UTEP standout and current Green Bay Packers star Aaron Jones. Other panelists included Jameill Showers, a former Texas A&M and UTEP quarterback who transitioned to safety and played four years in the NFL, and Derek Cox, a former William & Mary defensive back who played six seasons in the NFL.

Tre Stallings, Conference USA associate commissioner of football operations and an Ole Miss alum who spent four seasons in the NFL, moderated the discussion, which focused on the panelists’ experiences while preparing to go pro, their transition to the NFL and advice on creating longevity in the league, among other topics.

“I thought the player panel was very powerful, just being able to firsthand hear from guys who have gone through it, been in the league, had those experiences, been in new locker rooms building new relationships and hear what they had to say, how they went through it, how they did it, what they didn’t like, what they didn’t do right, and just be able to coach us through it, “Haener said. “That’s what this whole event is about, being able to have a head start and know what to expect.”

Chris Hope, a former NFL player and author, was the event’s keynote speaker. The former All-Pro safety and Florida State alum spoke on how to be a “true pro” and emphasized how to live with a purpose bigger than football to help with their inevitable transition out of the sport. He also detailed ways for players to create healthy relationships and boundaries with their family.

NFL Players Association representatives Lester Archambeau (senior player director) and Brandon Chubb (player director), both former professional players, provided an overview of the business history of the NFL and the NFLPA’s purpose. They also gave advice on vetting potential agents and shared NFLPA resources that can assist in the process.

Several speakers provided financial management advice on everything from the basics of budgeting to how taxes impact take-home pay, as well as the ins and outs of an NFL contract. Players were also walked through what to look for if they decide to hire a financial advisor.

Ray Farmer, a former NFL general manager and current scouting consultant for the Los Angeles Rams, detailed the level of research that goes into each draft prospect and what teams will look for beyond physical talent. Players also went through mock interviews to get a sense for what those experiences with NFL representatives will be like, especially at the NFL combine.

“The mock interviews were great for me because I was really curious about what kind of questions they’ll ask you, how they’ll take their chances to get to know you and what they need to ask to see who you are as a person , “said Bijan Robinson, junior running back at Texas. “When they did that, it explained a lot for me, and it kind of opened up a lot of things I need to start working on, on the field and off the field.

“I feel like this is a good weekend for college kids, if they have the opportunity, to come to. It’s a long weekend, but everything is beneficial. The information that you’re getting is all good information to take back to your team , to your coaches, to everybody who needs to know about this process. Not everybody can get this experience, and you just want to give it to as many people as you can to start learning, to start thinking about it. “

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