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Life after football: The struggles after playing days come to an end

By Ben Estes, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 29, 2012

When I was applying for these jobs thinking Michigan should look out (for me), that was me thinking selfishly, but at the same time, I was very disappointed in myself because I didn’t prepare myself for what I was going through.”

Floyd also admits he wasn’t the most diligent student, doing just enough to stay eligible but failing to push himself academically and for internship opportunities.

It’s the same story for Ray, who says he “ostracized himself from education.” He doesn’t blame any of his coaches or support staff because he says it wasn’t their duty to make sure he was preparing himself for a career. That doesn’t mean the staff was ignorant — former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr told his star safety directly that he was an academic underachiever.

Sword also says “the only person he blames is himself,” since he didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that the University provided him. But he goes farther than his former teammates.

“I’m not pointing the finger,” Sword says. “I’m not trying to play the blame game, because the University of Michigan gave me opportunities, took me places I would’ve never imagined going … but come on man, you’re talking about 18-19-year-old kids.

“I don’t mean to be contradicting myself, but there’s got to be something that could’ve been done to open our eyes about X-Y-Z.”

If there’s one thing the three men agree on, it’s that part of the problem was their mentality. It’s one likely shared by those following in their footsteps across the country today.

To earn a scholarship to a Division-I program, with rare exceptions, a player has to be not only talented but intensely dedicated to the sport of football. And if one has that combination, it’s inevitable that the game consumes most of their lives.

When they finally do get to college, the necessary time and commitment required only intensifies. College football has developed into a high-stakes, high-money sport, with intense pressure on coaches and players alike to be successful. That means the latter group must dedicate almost their entire lives to the sport.

And when you are that good and have spent that much time, why would you think about doing anything else after you leave school? All three men say that all they really thought about doing was moving on to the next level and playing for a long time in the NFL. They considered nothing else — they were football players. It was already their job.

The sport has only gotten bigger in recent years thanks to the influence of TV and other financial interests. When asked at Michigan media day about whether it was hard to imagine his future beyond the daily grind of his sport, fifth-year senior offensive guard Patrick Omameh, a communications and sociology double major, said that it’s “very, very difficult to think past football,” and agreed that it felt like a full-time job.

The lack-of-time argument is one that Shari Acho refuses to consider.

Acho worked as an academic counselor for the Michigan State football team and then the Michigan football team for 10 years, and in her time at both universities, she saw cases like Floyd —“lost souls,” as she termed them. Acho said that hearing those stories “drives me every day (to) be passionate about what I do (in) helping these kids.”

That passion has manifested itself in a relatively new program in the Michigan athletic department called the Michigan Career and Professional Transition Program, or M-PACT. Essentially the brainchild of Acho that formed after she noticed these issues developing, the program received extensive support from then-new Athletic Director Dave Brandon and others in the Athletic Department.

M-PACT is now in its third year. It’s designed to help athletes discover their passions outside of their sport, so that they will have more of a plan and direction when their playing days are over.

It’s open to athletes in all sports — Michigan football coach Brady Hoke has made it mandatory for his team — and has been very well received by those who have participated.

Should M-PACT continue to gain strength, perhaps those “souls” won’t ever lose their way.

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“Then, when the success of the game has been assured, and the college course is finished, the man who has been dined and feted has to commence his life in the world ...