Passing Along Advice from an NFL Legend

Rams Team Photo

Some of the best advice I ever received was from a legendary NFL quarterback, but more importantly, a man of conviction and someone who always leads by example. In 2004 after a long day of practice during training camp at the University of Albany, New York Giants quarterback Kurt Warner told me, if all I became at the end of my career was a professional football player that I will have missed the true meaning of playing in the NFL.

He told me to use football as a platform to do greater things with my life; not to use football to define my life. And looking back now after more than a decade has passed, not surprisingly, he was right.

On Tuesday of this week I shared this experience with the Van Buren Knights high school football team. The Knights made it to the OHSAA State Playoffs for the first time in school history. My message was simple for them: Football is the greatest game in the world. Be the greatest player you can be on the field, play with confidence, and be mentally prepared for the moment that you may be called upon to do something you’ve never done before.

On Wednesday of this week I shared this anecdote with student athletes at the University of Findlay and several other sports business students, some whom will be seeking careers this spring upon graduation. My hope for them is that they use the platform of a college education and an athletic scholarship to do great things while an Oiler, but even greater things as a professional.

Findlay Career Day 2014

On Friday of this week I was invited to share my experiences in the NFL with the Wheaton Rams and some of their parents. The Rams are a great group of kids preparing for the biggest game of their young lives. This Sunday they will play in their Super Bowl against the team that gave them their only loss of the season. My wish for them is first and foremost, that they have fun and no one gets injured. After that, my hope is they remember that teamwork is what got them to this point and they will be friends with their teammates for a very long time. And if you are going to play the game, play to win. Win with sportsmanship and respect the game. It truly is the best game in the world.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

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.

Attitude Reflect Leadership, Captain

Attitude reflect leadership… So very true in sports as well as in business, family circles, and pretty much life in general. The first time I saw this movie I was a second-year player at the University of Findlay, and frankly the thought of never playing football again mixed with an emotion-enhancinig potion left me wiping tears from my face as I sat on my beer-stained college couch. If you haven’t seen this movie yet I find it incredibly unbelievable that you are finding the time to read this blog, but just in case my mother hasn’t seen the movie, I won’t ruin it for her and give away the entire scene and ending. Ultimately though, one of the main characters, Bertier, doesn’t play in the most important game of his career. It’s heart-wrenching to follow the character through the entire movie and watch him as well as all the characters grow and become leaders in their community and school and then not to have the chance to paly the final game.

Bertier in many ways is the protagonist in this movie however he probably wouldn’t want to be considered above anyone or more important than any of his teammates. As one watches “Remember the Titans”, Gerry Bertier stands out as a true leader and captain and embraces it throughout this movie. He gives us multiple examples of his emotional intelligence as well as his passion: Two qualities I believe every leader must possess. Bertier’s passion is reflective in nearly every scene he is present, most noticeably when he is on the football field. He loves playing the game, and he loves his teammates, and he loves his coaches. He respects them and he leads them with a passion that only a captain can lead with.

In my opinion the greatest word in any language in any dictionary is passion. Every great leader has it and no person has ever been their best version of themself without having a passion for something that drives them. A person who is a leader demonstrates their leadership by showing others that passion through acting selfless for the betterment of a particular cause. When a leader begins caring more about being recognized and getting credit for contributing to a cause, the pureness of leading is lost and while their still may be passion, leadership is deduced and the organic reward and fulfillment of leading a cause fizzles. People see through self-righteousness and that passion is weakened.

The scene above where Julius and Bertier are having a conversation and Julius challenges Bertier is an epic moment in the movement that changed not only their friendship, but the team and the school and the entire community. It was in this moment that Bertier showed his true self. His true emotional intelligence was apparent as he handled the situation as a true captain should. When Julius challenged him, he collected himself and he thought about what his teammate was really saying before disagreeing with him. He considered his options and became open to making a difficult decision, and he made his decision because it needed to be made for the greater good. The look on Bertier’s face right at the end of the above scene is memorable because the look on his face as he hears Julius, is a look of surprise, but also a look of reality. In that particular moment I believe Bertier realized that he wasn’t doing everything he could for the football team and that he needed to do more. He needed to find a way to make them better because inside Bertier’s man-sized heart was a kid playing a game that he passionately wanted to win.

Bertier was a utilitarian throughout the movie and although the best interest of both the white and the black communities’ greater good was a risky and difficult leap to make, he took that leap by putting himself out on a limb. He took the chance and made himself vulnerable for the greater good of the team… And it gave me goose bumps after he called out the white full-back for not blocking for the black tailback. Bertier went back to his defense and turned to the other great leader on that defense Julius, and engaged him to lead with him. Bertier didn’t try to do it on his own. He knew, like all great leaders know, that it takes a team to accomplish great things. Bertier obviously knew that Julius was talented and knew that together they had endless potential as a defensive unit, but it was going to take everyone to accomplish what he truely was aiming for. Hence, he took a leap of faith and put himself out for the team. He showed a quality of many other great leaders; he demonstrated courage.

This scene is portrayed as a turning point in the film when the team finally came together and united as one team, instead of white and black. But it accomplished so much more from the aspect of understanding personalities and understanding leadership. Bertier taught the team to follow him. He lead by example and broke down the color barrier by doing what was right. As aspiring leaders in schools, businesses, families, and even politics… We can take a lesson from Gerry Bertier and earn the respect and trust of others by doing what is right. – I think they call it integrity.

Bertier’s integrity is apparent throughout the entire film but one scene that stands out in particular that really emphasizes his true self is the scene where he ended his relationship with his girlfriend. He obviously loved her because we heard him say so in the film, but he loved his team and he loved the game more. He was willing to let go of something that was comfortable for something that was compelling and that is an action of a leader with integrity. When his girlfriend wouldn’t shake Julius’s hand, Bertier had a decision to make and because he was a man with integrity; when given the ultimatum of Julius or her, he chose his team.

Attitude does in fact reflect leadership beyond sports. Poor and positive leadership alike, this movie is a great example of leadership carrying and burying a team. Similar to the leadership of a football team, the same goes in the C-Suite of a firm. If our bosses are complaining and disengagued about a program or event, it shouldn’t be a wonder why the program or event is only sub-par. However when an event is led with passion, it is followed with passion and greatness is accomplished.

As I reflect upon the movie yet another time and try to put myself in Bertier’s shoes as he’s watching his friends play in the state-championship game from a hospital bed, I can’t help but recall a cliche that every football player has heard; “Play every play as if it were your last.” When the weather is extreme hot or cold or the coach is yelling at you or you are having a crappy practice or you got a bad grade on a test or you got traded to a team in last place… no matter what the excuse might be… it is just that. It’s an excuse. The opportunity to play the game of football comes and goes and after it is gone, every football player can probably think back and remember a play here or a play there that they would like to have back… All of us besides Gerry Bertier.

I think the attitude he maintained through the finale of the the video was believable because he did in fact play every play as though it was his last. So when the time came that Gerry did in fact play his last play, he was able to accept it. He accepted that it was his time to move on and he celebrated the team’s victory with them from the hospital and wasn’t bitter or depressed about it because he knew that he had given his heart to them and to the game. Gerry Bertier knew in his heart that he played the game of football the way it was meant to be played. He played the game of football similarly to how he lived his life; with passion, with courage and with integrity.

Individual Sports Hit Home


Over the course of the past two weekends I have spent time supporting high school sports in Ohio at the OHSAA state swimming and wrestling championship tournaments. Working in these sports have been a relatively new experience for me as I have always participated in team sports. My cousin Aaron was pretty much a stud swimmer in high school and went on to a successful career at Rutgers University, and many of my college football teammates at the University of Findlay were successful high school wrestlers, but was as close I really came to individual sports at the high school level besides my average showing each year as a member of the OGHS Track team.

What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that there is something fundamentally different between team and individual sports at the high school level when it comes to competing at the state tournament. While I will always believe the greatest accomplishment one can achieve is a team championship title, at the end of the competitive day, it takes a group of individuals to contribute to that effort to accomplish that goal. There is certainly a crowned team award for first place in high school swimming and wrestling, but ultimately in sports such as swimming and wrestling, the attention is placed on the state champion. There is only one athlete atop the standings board in individual sports and I have been fortunate to experience some state champions in Ohio be crowned over the past two weeks.

Without a doubt the highlight of the past two weekends has been enjoying the all-access pass for the tournaments granted by the OHSAA. With the American Dairy Association’s involvement in high school sports and partnership negotiated with the OHSAA, we have been afforded access to the personal sights and emotions the athletes competing in the tournaments experience. As the relationship manager with the OHSAA, I have been quite fortunate to be in the action first hand. It’s wonderful to see up close and personal the emotion on a state champion’s face as they beat their opponent and realize they are number one.

Maybe the best feeling I’ve experienced in recent weeks came after experiencing the first state championship wrestling match of my life. The 103 lb match yielded a champion from Lakewood St. Edwards, Dean Heil. The kid is only a freshman but stood like a man in the circle of the Jerome Schottenstein Center platform as a champion. The excitemet on his face and abundance of emotion as the referee raised his arm as state champion caught me off guard. As the reality set in for Dean Heil that he was number one in the state of Ohio, reality set in with me that I was incredibly happy for him… Not so much that he had just earned points for his team, but because he was the best in the state of Ohio at what he does. It was a new feeling for me to experience, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity.

Heil was a gracious champ; shaking hands with his opponent and his opponet’s coaches. Then feeling the excitement take him over, he jumped into the arms of his awaiting coaches; embracing in a heart-felt bear hug. Soon after feeling the love from his coaches, Heil was grabbing his warm-up and off in a fast jog for the bleachers… At the end of his jog was his father; waiting for his son with a proud tear and open arms ready to embrace his state champ. It gave me goosebumps as I watched son and father share that moment. Overwhelming joy and pride radiating from a hug between father and son… It was a beautiful moment that only sport could have provided. As I approached hour 12 of that particular work day, I became overwhelmed with a sence of fulfillment and reward; and realized that sharing that particular moment with Dean Heil and his father was the reason that I do what I do… It wasn’t about the long workday any longer, it was about the brief moment that only a long day could have offered.

Invizzible Ink was created to highlight the positive aspects and rewards that sport offers our communities. Experiencing first hand a freshman in high school take the Division I honor of best of the best was a beautiful and very rewarding opportunity. It reminded me that sports marketing and working in sport is more than a business, it’s an opportunity to make a difference.

You Win with People


My fist real mentor was my college strength coach. Cal Dietz helped me become the athlete I became on a number of platforms. The first platform was the wooden one I did power-cleans on in the University of Findlay weight room. I had no idea what I was doing and quite frankly I was lucky I didn’t hurt myself. But Cal saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He coached me, encouraged me, and developed the self-confidence I was lacking that ultimately led me to the NFL.

I’ll never forget the embarrassing first day of college football. For those that don’t know what testing day is, it’s the first day of the season that coaches can see the progress an athlete made in the off-season by having the athletes demonstrate various tests of strength and explosiveness. Players are tested on various strength tests such as the bench press and vertical jump. My first day as a skinny college athlete I did the 225lb bench press test zero reps. Yup, dropped the weight on my chest and couldn’t lift it. Good thing I could catch a football because that was the only thing that was impressive about me as a freshman at the University of Findlay.

It wasn’t until the following off-season when Cal came to the University of Findlay that I aspired to be the best football player I could be. He started by teaching me how to eat. That’s right; brought me to the dining hall and filled my plate with whole grain bread, deli-style turkey piled high – and I mean high, lots of vegetables, and two glasses of milk. I followed in his shadow as he explained why he was putting the different foods on my tray. “When you finish this tray, go back through the line and get the same thing again. If you need some ice cream to fill in the cracks that’s ok.” –  I guess he wanted me to gain some weight. Which I did, the right way. Nutritious food with a little humor- I’ll always remember that moment as Cal’s first day of coaching me. From there it was all business in the weight room. I was always a good athlete because I was blessed with talent but Cal helped me become great.

I’ve had a lot of great coaches and teachers in my life but none quite like Cal. It takes a special person to find personal success in helping others achieve their goals. Cal certainly has his own goals, which is another skill I learned from him, but he always cared about his athletes reaching their full potential. In his mind, if his athletes weren’t reaching their full potential, he wasn’t doing his job to his fullest potential. He gave us everything he had everyday as our coach, and in return, we gave him everything we had. It was the epitome of team. And I loved being a part of it. He made me want to be better every time I was around him.

Cal will always be a dear friend and mentor. We talk about business ventures and philosophy when we have time and most recently we discussed the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. One of the themes in Collin’s book is having the right people in the right positions for your organization. Maybe it’s the competitive nature of the NFL in me that has influenced me, or possibly jaded me, but this philosophy is not just a suggestion for managers to consider. If we do not have the right people in the right positions, a company will never be great. Just as Cal was the right person to help me, corporations have to find the same “right” people to ensure greatness. People are every company’s greatest resource and I completely believe a happy employee is one whom is passionate. Find employees who have a passion for your business and listen to them. Develop them into what they want to be and they will give you everything they have for your business. You may not bench-press 420 lbs when its all over, but you will have won the right way, with the right people on your team. – Thanks Cal for inspiring me to be great.