Conditioning Test

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Pictured here is the 300 yard shuttle conditioning test.

We make a lot of sports analogies around the office at UpField because sports have been such an important part of our backgrounds. Sports at all levels, little league up to the professional ranks, helped shape our team into the people we are today. We believe Life’s Lessons are learned on the field of play, as often, if not more than they are learned in church, at school, the farm, or anywhere else we learn for that matter.

When playing in the NFL, our team had to pass a conditioning test before reporting to training camp. The test was challenging, but if you followed the off-season program and put the work in, the test was attainable and relatively predictable since you spent most of your time preparing for it. The learning from the conditioning test for both the coaches and the players was not to see who could run a five-minute mile or fifteen 40-yard dashes for time, the test was to see who got tired, who slowed down, who would quit, and who would encourage the others as the test became increasingly more difficult.

A conditioning test has as much to do with displaying mental toughness as it is physical exertion, and much like entrepreneurial businesses, one must be mentally strong to survive. To make this team, you must work harder than the giants, smarter than the competition, and be relentlessly focused on your goals. Too much deviation from the goal or the process, and you could find yourself out of shape, looking for a job, or worst of all – quitting.  
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Behind the Scenes at Super Bowl XLIX

The Play 60 Kid Zone at NFL Experience.

The Play 60 Kid Zone at NFL Experience.

From the time I graduated college I’ve had the privilege of working with professional athletes in several different capacities. As an athlete, guys who will one day be in the Hall of Fame mentored me and taught me about the game. As an employee and someone now on the other side of the business, professional players still teach me about the game. It’s not about the playbook anymore though – it’s about the game of life and what it means to be a pro.

I have been incredibly blessed to have opportunities both as an athlete and in business. I’ve been on five Super Bowl trips with my company since coming to work for dairy farmers, and have had the chance to speak to thousands of kids over the years about our Fuel Up to Play 60 program. I’m realizing the days of being recognized as an athlete are passing me by, however every once in a while, a kid waiting for one of our Fuel Up to Play 60 ambassadors to sign his football will ask me if I played, and let me sign his football. It’s not going to fetch much on Ebay, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it still feels good.

nflx autograph

Are you sure kid?

We have the greatest ambassadors and spokespersons in the entire NFL working with Fuel Up to Play 60 to spread the word about youth health and wellness. On Friday night before the Super Bowl, we invited some of them to join us for dinner and we had the privilege of getting to know them outside of work.

dinner panel

Alfred Morris, Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, Phil Simms, Herm Edwards

Larry Fitzgerald and I were seated at the same table that evening and after dinner he was gracious enough to pose for a picture with me. During dinner, my boss who was also at our table, indulged me by telling Larry that I too played a little ball and from that point on through dinner, Larry invited me to answer several of the football related questions that came up at the table. It was incredibly humbling and my respect for Fitzgerald, went from a 99 to a 100. They really do not come any better in the NFL than this gentleman. He even asked me before leaving how I was adjusting to, as he referred to it, “real America.” Well, I told him, “It’s not the NFL, but it’s not all bad either. The thing I learned pretty quickly,” I told him, “you will miss your teammates and the locker room, so finding the right team and culture to be in business with is important.” He extended his hand, looked me in the eye and said, “that’s good stuff.”

Larry Fitzgerald is a Pro's Pro.

Larry Fitzgerald is a Pro’s Pro.

My favorite story he told was about being a ball boy and a friend of the Minnesota Vikings as a teenager, growing up in the twin cities. His father was a sports journalist there and over the years became good friends with the Vikings coach, Denny Green. Through that friendship, Larry was invited to be around the team and became friends with many of the players. Two of those players, were Ohio State Buckeyes. Cris Carter became and still is a mentor to Larry, and the late Korey Stringer was the best tipper on the team. Larry would wash the cars of the players during training camp and they would take care of him handsomely. Once Randy Moss even let Fitzgerald drive his brand new Bentley to his Senior Prom! Can you imagine!?

tebow and inkrott

God Bless

At the Taste of the NFL, I spent a few minutes talking with Tim Tebow. I seriously do not know how anyone cannot like this guy! No matter what you are passionate about in this world, if you commit to it, chances are you will find success. Commitment is a rarity in many areas of society today and to hear people criticize this guy because of his commitment to his values and beliefs… Well, Godspeed to you. I happen to love what Tim stands for and have always been a fan of his. And I told him that this weekend.

Me: “Thank you for doing what you do, man. It’s refreshing to talk with someone who gets it like you do.”

Tim: “It’s what I do, Mark. It’s just who I am. Thank you for saying that.”

Me: “You’re a pro in my book, man. Good luck with everything. God Bless.”

Tim: “Thank you, Mark. God Bless.”

Me: (out-loud but to myself as I walked away) “That was awesome. Hell yea!”

On Saturday at the NFL Experience, we officially announced a formal relationship with the NFL Alumni Association. We have always worked with former players because they are fantastic leaders in their communities. This year, the organization made a donation to our initiative. Below is a pic of our chairman, Paul Rovey and President of NFL Alumni, Joe Pisarcik. Joe was a NFL Quarterback for nine years with the Giants, Eagles and Dolphins. Here he is seated in the center of our group. Joe and I have become pretty good friends over the past few years and I am both excited to be working with him as well as inspired by him. He is doing some great work for former players and he is a selfless man.

Joe actually drove himself to my hotel Saturday morning to pick me up, just so we could hang out and talk. Most everyone is being driven around by private drivers in limousines and black SUV’s. Not Joe. That’s just the kind of man he is. He said that he was sorry he was so busy and didn’t have more time; that he had just come from the Valor and Victor 5K, an event that was raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. An organization that invests in military veterans and their spouses.

President & CEO of NFL Alumni Association with Paul Rovey, Chairman of DMI.

President & CEO of NFL Alumni Association with Paul Rovey, Chairman of DMI.

Some other familiar faces in this picture too. Seated next to Mr. Pisarcik is one of my favorites, Jason Witten. And seated next to Mr. Rovey is Alex Smith. Alex and Jason have been some of our best ambassadors and have been with the Fuel Up to Play 60 program for several years. They truly understand what it means to be a professional and we are incredibly thankful to have them on our team.

I have a special appreciation for Jason Witten, being that he is a tight end, and all around great human being. He, along with Joe Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald are among my favorite players in the league right now, so yea, this year was a pretty great year.

Jason is now being coached by Mike Pope in Dallas; the tight ends coach who coached the Giants when I was with them in 2003-04 (Jason Garrett, the Cowboys head coach, was the 3rd string quarterback for the Giants which is how Pope ended up in Dallas). Jason and I were telling Alex about the crazy drills Pope would have us do after practice; and it felt good to be one of the guys again.

Talking tight end play with Jason Witten & Alex Smith

Talking tight end play and sharing a few laughs with Jason Witten & Alex Smith

The NFL Experience is definitely a sight for football fans to see. If you ever get a chance to experience it, it’s worth the price of admission, especially if you have kids! One kid whom I’ve developed a bit of a friendship with over the years is Jane from Wilson Football. Jane has been working in the Wilson factory for 48 years, hand making NFL footballs in Ada, Ohio – about 30 miles from where I grew up.

I met Aunt Jane in Phoenix in 2007 at Super Bowl XLII. We talked about the weather back home and the college kids at Ohio Northern University and the Regal Beagle. And Jane loved that I caught footballs that her hands made.

Every Super Bowl that I have been to since 2007, I’ve gone to visit her at the NFL Experience. This was her last NFL Experience, her last Super Bowl and her final season on the Wilson team so I was especially grateful that I could wish her a happy retirement. As we talked a bit, she said you know, “I think we’ve had some people from your town work in the factory over the years.”

“Is that right” I said. She said, yea, I think they were laborers in the factory like myself.”

Me: “Jane” I said: “Can I have my picture taken with you?”

Jane: “Oh my heavens, why would you want to do that?”

Me: “Well, the way I see it, of all these pro football players and fans in here, not one of ’em knows more about it than you. And since you are retiring, I may never see you again.”

Jane: “Oh well, in that case, are we going to take a selfie?”

Me: “Yep, Let’s take a selfie, Jane.”

Aunt Jane has been sewing footballs for 48 NFL seasons

Aunt Jane has been sewing footballs for 48 NFL seasons.

Browns Leadership is #2

photo by Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports)

(photo by Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports)

In 1987 Ernest Byner fumbled and for the first time I realized the game of football was more than just a game. Not only was I a 9 year old loyal Browns fan who could name every starter on the team and their jersey number, I was a football player myself. I wore #10 that season. I can still hear Dick Enberg saying “Oh my!” as Denver recovered the fumble and Byner hung his head in the end zone. Overcome with numbing disbelief and tears filled my eyes when #44 fumbled the ball and with it, our chances of making it to the Super Bowl. It didn’t seem fair. We were so close! It was more than just a football game that day – it meant so much more to that 10 year old boy who loved the Dawg Pound Defense and believed Bernie Kosar was the best quarterback in the NFL.

Since The Fumble, 27 seasons of Browns football have come and gone, none of them resulting in a trip to the Super Bowl. There have also been almost 27 starting quarterbacks for the team since then – 24 I think. And not one of them better than Bernie Kosar unfortunately. Time and time again, quarterbacks have come to Cleveland and fail to lead the team to the playoffs. I’ve heard some say, “but it’s a team sport, it takes everyone on the team to win, not just the quarterback.” They would be right – yes, it does take everyone to win. But it takes leadership to build a team, and the Browns have been lacking it. At the company I work for, we have core values that guide our business. I wrote about Integrity in a previous post which is one of our five core values. The others are leadership, excellence, commitment and collaboration.

Whether you are part of a corporate team or a football team, I’m a firm believer in having a shared set of goals and values. Without goals, I’m not sure how you know where you are going and without values, the right people will not be going along with you. Leaders have a special ability to make those around them better, they find and oftentimes create ways to win as an underdog, and they do the things on and off the field to put themselves, their organizations, and their fans in a position to have success.

There are great examples of quarterback leadership in the NFL today. Professionals who take responsibility not only for themselves, but for their entire team. We know who they are and who they aren’t. Fast forward 27 years from the Fumble and the Browns, well, they drafted Johnny Manziel, then put him into a starting role at the most important position in the NFL. And did so knowing he fits no one’s definition of a leader. In fact, I think he is the exact opposite of most people’s definition of a leader. I’m all for giving second chances and I’m hoping Manziel turns it around. But Johnny if you somehow find yourself reading this, know that your teammates and the fans are the reason you are in the position you are in. It’s not all about you. You are in the National Football League now – It is not your right to be a Cleveland Brown, it is your privilege. The sooner you figure this out the better, because Browns nation is getting real tired of your games.

Oiler Tradition

findlayI’m not sure if anyone in their right mind would choose Findlay, Ohio as a vacation destination this time of year; or any time of year for that matter. But here I am. Day two of six in Findlay enjoying my time on my Alma Matter campus speaking to college students, coaches, staff and administrators about their futures, career paths, the future of the University’s sports programs, the benefit of internships, sports marketing and management, offensive and defensive line play, digital marketing and communications, NFL scouts, new buildings and sports facilities, campus writing publications and of course, the weather.

 It’s been almost twelve years since I graduated from the University of Findlay and I’m still proud of the fact that I graduated from here. When I was an eighteen year old kid I didn’t know what I didn’t know; and at 34, I still don’t. But I do know there are certain events in one’s life that whether one realizes it or not at the time, happen for a reason. I think coming to the University of Findlay after high school while at the time, I wasn’t sure was right for me, turned out to be a great decision. I’m still great friends with my teammates from the days of the collegiate gridiron. It was here and with them that I learned to be perseverant and to work my ass off for the greater good. That greater good was Findlay Football and a better opportunity and life than otherwise would have been possible for a kid from Glandorf, Ohio.  While it all started as a kid in back yard football games and with my coaches from the Ottawa-Glandorf communities, Findlay was the next step.

It was here that I met and quickly loved a football coach that knew how to motivate and inspire in a way that words cannot give justice. Coach Dick Strahm is one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met and possibly to ever walk the Earth. If you haven’t had the chance to play for Coach or know his story, it may be hard to believe that the greatest of the great resides in Findlay, Ohio, but that is the case. He leads by example and has taught so many of us over the years how to do the same. The tradition he began and instilled in me, is much in part why I am on campus this week sharing what I am able to share. Whether it be my time, my experiences or my humble expertise in areas of my profession, I am here to continue an Oiler tradition that many before me have been passionate about and contributed to.

Pay It Forward


Today was a great reminder of why we should take time to be a servant.

Several times as a young man I recall trying to find my way as a long-shot-professional athlete, a graduate student, a newbie in my professional career… and the list goes on. Anyways, I felt completely lost and didn’t know whom to turn to for answers. So, I did what many of us do every day… I made mistakes. I failed. I entered situations underprepared.

But I also learned from those failures, embarrassments, and missed opportunities and used that knowledge to not only better myself; but when the right opportunity presented itself to help others: I recognized that I could make a difference. Earlier today I received a random email from a college senior whom I have been mentoring throughout his senior year. He played small college football and was an All-American linebacker at a pretty decent Division III school. The compelling element of our relationship is that I have still not even met him face to face. We communicate long distance and 100% digitally. Which maybe 15 years ago would be ridiculous, but today, it reminded me that sometimes we don’t even have to stand up to help someone.

I was paired with his father at a charity golf outing last spring and like every proud father, he bragged about his son. I took an instant liking to Adam’s father; and especially liked the fact that I was consistently longer off the tee than him. After a few cold ones and eigtheen holes, we were friends. He asked if he could pass my card along to his son and of course I encouraged him to do so. “I’d be happy to talk to Adam, I told him. “Who knows,” I told him, maybe I can help him prepare for the real world if football doesn’t work out.” – “I have plenty of experience in football not working out, and I’d be happy to talk to him.”

Six months later I received this email…

Hey Mark,

I’m just emailing you to catch you up on how things have been since we talked. Our season ended up 10-2 we made it to the second round of the playoffs. I went on to play in the Metrodome for the All-American bowl and that was a blast! Right before New Year’s I ran into a guy while shopping with my mom; I gave him the elevator speech (which you told me to prepare) and he took down my information. Long story short, today’s my first day at TransAmerica Personal Financial Advisors, I’ll be helping people spend and invest their money and I think I’m really gonna like this job. I just wanted to thank you for the time you spent with me giving advice. I hope all is well and that you’re having a great new year.

Pay it forward friends. It’s worth it.

Third Period English

When I was a junior in high school Mrs. Leis told our third period College-Prep English Class that who we are and who we become in this world is a result of the people around us. Of all the lessons and memories I have from high school and growing up in my small town, by far this has meant more to me and has guided me to become who I think God intended me to be more than anything else. I have been so blessed over the years to have lived the travels and experiences life has provided, and at every stop, I’ve thought about Mrs. Leis, standing in front of our class talking about the experience of losing her husband in a tragic plane crash and that no matter how long people are in your life, whether it be a moment, an hour, an evening or a lifetime; they leave a mark on you and you are different because you met them. So with that advice, perhaps we listen closer, care more and try harder because every day as Mrs. Leis reminded us, is as an opportunity to be significant to someone else.

I hold a special place and respect for the two football coaches who led the teams I played on and their staffs while at Ottawa-Glandorf High School, but it was in Mrs. Leis’s English class that I learned to express myself and found an identity. It was the encouragement and inspiration from Mrs. Leis to live life to its fullest and not look back that has me sitting in Chicago after traveling the country and literally the world as a professional athlete writing a blog post. I certainly didn’t think professional sports were in my future at that time, but in the back of my mind I thought that I could be a writer someday. Even if being a writer today means I’m blogging or getting a call from a friend to help find the right words for a resume or editing a letter, the fact of the matter is that no matter where I go or who I meet, Mrs. Leis instilled in me in me that I can be someone who leaves a mark on others. So in some self-indulging way, I think I need to write about it because someone may also read this post and be reminded of or moved to ask me about how amazing of an English teacher she was and continues to be.

It’s About People

In the midst of an aimless adventure to find the meaning of life, I stirred one winter morning after a sleepless night in Chicago to find myself stress-riddled and in search of the meaning of my existence… That’s a pretty deep intro for an Invizzible Ink blog post but looking back at my five month hiatus from blogging, I intrepidly realized that humans cannot pretend to be someone we are not. Me, I’m a writer. I have been since the fourth grade when I won my first writing contest. (Insert unabashed plug) Fast forward twenty years five months ago, I was adhering to the demanding challenge of working full time in Chicago and going to grad school full time in Ohio while keeping a ridiculous travel schedule and managing school and work projects; And usually between the hours of midnight and 3 am maintaining a decent marketing blog. The trick to accomplishing all these goals was simple; Two years of non-sleep week nights. Healthy? No. But certainly advantageous to the accomplishment of what I set out to do.

What I found to be true of this endeavor was that one cannot maintain that routine for much more than two years; at least I couldn’t. Something had to give. Unfortunately for Invizzible Ink, when I started my new job in Chicago, my writing was put on the back burner. Not by choice necessarily, but by default. Hobbies took a back seat; evenings and early mornings gave way to the furious pace of trying to get up to speed with senior and other experienced team members conducting business. It’s exciting and exhilarating to make decisions that affect national programs and millions of impressionable consumers, but soon I found that the core of Invizzible Ink; the marketing mind that defined my day-to-day professional career was lacking organic substance. There was something missing that balanced my holistic mind-operation. Austin Powers would diagnose as a loss of mojo. For me, my mojo is writing. And I wasn’t writing. I was tired and not inspired until finally I realized what was missing… I needed to bring back Ink!

So how does one lose their mojo anyway? Well, I don’t exactly know but I know how one gets it back. One returns to their utility. – The definition of one’s purpose for living and ambition to leave one’s mark on the world. I’m not sure if Webster or Wikipedia would agree with my definition of utility, but in Business Ethics class, our professor John Annarino taught us the meaning of utility and it stuck with me and resonated deeper than any other lesson I learned in two years of graduate studies. Why? Because it was humanized. It meant something that couldn’t be added or subtracted. It lived and breathed in each member of our class and was left for each of us to decide for ourselves how we would define our personal style to learn, lead others, and live life.

One’s utility is the most important aspect of business in my opinion. It serves as my personal guide to making decisions and dealing with relationships. I vowed after reading Good to Great by Jim Collins and receiving years of coaching from hard working volunteer football coaches that life is about people first. “First who, then what,” as Collins would say. As I would say, life is too short and opportunities to make a difference in society are too abundant, to not focus on people first before the subject. At the end of my day, I work with people and for people so why not direct my focus on people? – A widget has never generated a single emotion that motivated, encouraged, or taught me a lesson that made a difference in my life, however I could go on for pages about the people in my life that have made Invizzible Ink possible.

Speaking of people, I think we as humans seek and desire many forms of acceptance from our families, employers and significant others in our daily routines to make sense of our existence here on Earth. I believe when we sacrifice our personal passions for obligations beyond our control, we are moved from living-comfort, to a place of reaction. When the speed of the game gets too intense and we are not in control, we lose our ability to make concerted and logical decisions. We panic. Get ahead of ourselves and forget the basis of how we progressed ourselves to our current state of being. And how did we all get to where we are today? People helped us. – Granted many of us have individual talents and successes but collectively, there has always been some person somewhere who gave an opportunity, believed in us, sacrificed for us, or extended a hand to us in some way. It’s people, folks! It’s not the stuff in our lives, it’s the people that make our world what it is. And I feel sorry for those who don’t get that, but it’s also my utility to help them realize what they are missing.