A high school senior from Kentucky recently reached out to me on Snapchat. My progression from a college walk-on to NFL player compelled him to reach out seeking advice. He said it was his dream to follow my example and make it to the NFL one day, and had the courage to reach out and ask for help. I wrote him an email about what has helped me in my journey, and my opinion of what it takes to make it. Many of you heard me mention this on the Rich Roll Podcast and expressed curiosity, so below you will find the email. For his privacy I'm just going to refer to this young man as J.
WHAT IT REALLY TAKES
The only thing that will determine how far you go and how successful you are is you. I like that you have lofty goals, so did I. Your commitment and dedication are what will take you where you want to go.
I remember being where you are now. I didn't have any D1 offers, and I was a walk on in college. The reason that I was able to work my way onto the team, and then onto the field, and eventually into the NFL was that I outworked everyone. But not just at football, at everything. You can't just outwork people in the weight room. You'll get stronger and faster doing that, which is good, but there's more to football and to life.
You have to invest in yourself more than everybody else. You have to read articles, and studies, and books about how to improve in every way that you can think of. How to create good habits, how to set goals in a productive structure. You have a goal of playing in the NFL but you need dozens of smaller goals to reach before you achieve your ultimate goal, so you need to learn how to do that. You need to learn how your body works, what muscles need more development, how they work together, how and when you need to stretch, all to help avoid non contact injuries and become a better athlete. Learn how to watch film of other great players and learn from them. Learn how to use visualization techniques to be mentally ready as well as physically. Learn how to manage your time better and be more accountable.
You need to be smart and safe off the field, because you can't afford to make some of the mistakes other guys might get away with, whether it's grades, alcohol, drugs, or hanging with the wrong crowd. I didn't drink at all in high school, and almost not at all in college either. I could go out and have fun with my friends, but I wasn't willing to put myself in a situation to do something stupid and jeopardize what I was working for and what I wanted most. Not saying you have to do that, just find what works for you. You can have fun, and believe me you will, but you have to put this and your grades first. You have to go to sleep early sometimes, because you can't be late to a workout or a meeting or a class. Your friends might be able to skip some classes but you can't. Bad habits will leak into other parts of your life.
I know that sounds like a lot, but if it were easy to get here everyone would do it. Knowledge and information are everything, because it doesn't matter how hard you work if you're not working on the right things. Asking me for advice shows you're already headed in the right direction. A lot of people won't or don't know how to ask for help. Keep doing that, learn from as many people as you can; how to get faster, how to run better routes, how to study better, how to train and strengthen your mind, your mental toughness. You have to become obsessed with it, with constantly improving, but in every facet of your life because you can't be your best at football without being your best as a student, friend, son, community member, etc. They all go together. And I can tell you you're never going to regret working too hard or learning too much about how to be your best self. I'm still trying to learn different things that can help me get better everyday and I don't plan on stopping.
Lastly, just enjoy the process. There will be great days and terrible days, but don't quit and don't stray from your process, whatever plan you're following to get better. Just take it one day at a time so you can be fully present and all-in every day.
- Griff Whalen