Recently, the Raiders participated in the NFL Player Engagement's Prep 100 Series. The program, which hosted 100 specially selected local high school football players, is designed to prepare the student-athletes on and off the field for the next level.
|Four Raiders players participated in the morning session with the student-athletes. Photo by Tony Gonzales
"This is one of our initiatives within our NFL Engagement Department that is really a grassroots opportunity to really reach out to elite high school student-athletes across the country," explained Austin Moss, Manager of NFL Player Engagement. "The NFL made it an initiative to really target a lot of the communities, populations, that are populated with NFL talent, so we've been going to our football hotbeds across the country and the states that produce the most players, so Texas, Florida, Louisiana and California. It's huge for us. It's our first time coming out here, second year of the program, and we're really excited to be with the Raiders."
The program was separated into two parts – morning classroom sessions in downtown Oakland and a football camp at the Raiders practice facility in the afternoon.
The camp was intended to give the student-athletes a foundation as they move forward. "I feel like the most important message would probably just be the importance of education and character," said Moss. "Those are two things that will never leave you regardless of whether they make it to the NFL or whatever they choose to do in their careers. If you have a solid character, you build and work on that every day, if you continue to put a focus on education, that'll last you a lifetime. So we really want these guys to understand that there's more to life than football. We're really glad that they are talented and that they are pursuing this game because we love it, but we also want to impart some important life skills to help them as they progress in life."
Current and former Raiders players were involved, giving the young athletes first-hand knowledge of what it takes to make it to the National Football League. "For players to give back and to reach out to guys that are aspiring to where they want to get to, it speaks volumes," said former Raiders TE Tony Stewart. "Just giving back and seeing the Raiders organization out in the community, it's great to see the Shield continuing on that path to excellence."
Stewart spoke to the parents of the student-athletes in the morning session, while OL Khalif Barnes, WR Greg Jenkins, LB Sio Moore and WR Rod Streater spent time with the high school students in the classroom.
Facilitated by Raiders Director of Player Engagement Lamonte Winston, the current Raiders discussed the importance of education, focus, hard work, and going above and beyond in order to succeed.
Former Raiders RB Rock Cartwright and FB Jamize Olawale work with the running backs. Photo by Tony Gonzales
"Football isn't hard for me. I can wake up every day of the week and be good at anything I want to. And being good at life and being good at football isn't the hard part; it's being great that's the hard part," said Moore. "I've passed the part of mediocre. I've been good at being good, but to be great is to be consistent, is to be disciplined, it's to be 100 percent accountable, to be on top of everything. It's how you carry yourself. It's how you look. It's what you do when you do it. It's the people you surround yourself with. It's a constant daily grind and effort. That's what I really wanted to get to them because everybody wants to play football, but everybody doesn't want to do the little things that life requires you to have to the mental space to even think about being a champion or to be in the league."
Jenkins and Streater both took unconventional paths to the NFL (through an HBCU and a junior college respectively) and they were able to share their experiences with the athletes. "In society they get caught up in the whole D1; I want to go to D1. The reality is that everybody is not going to D1," said Jenkins. "And if some people go to D1, they get detoured. If you have talent, you can make it from anywhere. They'll find you. Just as long as you take care of your part, then everything else will fall into place."
"I probably have one of the craziest stories and I Just felt like if I could make it, there's no reason for me not to go back and help other kids make it," added Streater. "I've been through a lot of adversity and I feel like my story can inspire others to get through their problems."
The four Raiders players who participated in the morning session were happy to give their time on a Saturday morning. "I think it's awesome. I didn't have an opportunity like this. I can take a Saturday and go talk to them and see what it takes…even a college kid…to see what it takes to get to that level," said Barnes. "To have that is absolutely remarkable. And sometimes you can get one or two kids to get a sting in his brain and he'll think about it and then you've done a pretty good job. I think this is absolutely remarkable because I haven't had anything like that in my life."
The defensive backs speak with the Prep 100 DBs during practice. Photo by Tony Gonzales
Streater wanted the young men to know that with the right work ethic, they could make it too. "A lot of kids are from this area and the Raiders are a team they look up to and they probably dream of playing in the NFL and to see guys that are where they're trying to get to is pretty big for them," said Streater. "Just to be a positive influence and a role model is pretty big for them."
The Raiders squad is made up of community-minded, good men. "We're an organization that's built on helping the community we're in," said Moore. "We have guys built with the character to do so and we love being part of the community. There's no better feeling than to help those, to be around those, who go out each and every week and show their loyalty."
After the morning classroom sessions, the 100 student-athletes arrived at the Raiders facility for a football camp, coached by former NFL players, including former Raiders RB Rock Cartwright. Defensive backs Chimdi Chekwa, Shelton Johnson and Brandian Ross, and FB Jamize Olawale came out to support the football players throughout the event.
"We're just out here mentoring to the kids just trying to share our experience and what we've gone through and hopefully it'll rub off on them and they can leave with something that they can use going forward," said Olawale.
Working with the football players on their skills is something the veteran Raiders wished they'd had as kids. "I was a high school football player; I've been there and done that, so just to help them through this process and make it go a lot smoother than it went for me," said Johnson. "I wish I had somebody to tell me how things were going to go and help me through that whole process."
"I think it means a whole lot," added Chekwa. "I know, for me, at that age, it was a childhood dream of mine to be in the NFL and to actually see an NFL player would have been amazing. To actually be coached up and go to the facility and do what I love to do there, I know that would have fired me up, so I think it's really helpful for their development."
Defensive backs coach Joe Woods addresses the Prep 100 participants at the Raiders facility. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The high school players went all out in the drills and Olawale, as well as the Raiders defensive backs, were impressed with their commitment. "I saw a few who were just eager to learn, eager to ask questions and all of them were real competitive," said Olawale. "That really impressed me because at this age usually don't find guys who are willing to take their weekend to go work out, so that was real impressive. It was just good to see young guys with that mindset."
Ross hopes the students realize the value of hard work. "It's easy to stay at home and do nothing but it's that much harder to do something extra," said Ross. "Focus on your craft and work hard."
The Raiders participation helps to make those lessons stick. "To see active players that these young men see on Sunday is amazing," said Moss. "These guys can recognize every one of them with most of these kids being from the Oakland community and being diehard Raiders fans. To have them come out here and really invest their time when they don't have to, I think it speaks volumes to the Raiders organization and their commitment to really doing community outreach and being involved."
The student-athletes also received a surprise visit from new Raiders defensive backs coach Joe Woods, who spoke to the football players about achieving success simply by working hard. "It was amazing. It was honestly, in our two years of doing this, it's the first time we've had an actual coach speak to our young men. It's such a valuable opportunity," said Moss. "I don't know where else you could get this type of experience where you have Raiders players, Raiders coaches, former NFL players all out here in the same area providing great wisdom and knowledge. The message that coach left is – the secret to success is there's no secret. I think that hits home for a lot of guys. I think a lot of people are wondering how do I make it? What do I have to do? But he really breaks it down and was like, 'you just have to work hard and do the things that people aren't willing to do and everything will take care of itself.'"
The young men participating in the Prep 100 had the opportunity to meet Raiders players, coaches, and alumni, and learn valuable lessons from each professional. Now, it's up to the high school students to invest their time, energy, skills and knowledge into becoming excellent students and athletes in order to reach the next level.