BEREA, Ohio (AP) -- The rookies, their lives filling with more responsibility by the minute, have listened carefully to the personal stories of success and failure from former NFL players.
The overriding messages: Control your destiny. Don’t make our mistakes.
Adam “Pacman” Jones warned about the trappings of fame. Michael Vick spoke candidly about his dog-fighting conviction, 23 months locked in a federal prison and a second chance. Ex-NBA player Chris Herren detailed his descent into heroin’s horror.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has taken it all in during the rookie symposium, processing every word as if he was learning a new play—this one being the X’s and O’s of life.
“It would be easy to walk into those meetings and not listen and say, ‘I’m not that guy,”’ Griffin said, “because a lot of guys on that stage said the same thing when they heard another guy in the past come in and talk to them and say, ‘I’m not that guy, it will never happen to me.’
“You take what they say, apply it to your own life and if you think ‘I’m not that guy’ at least you listened to them. You can only learn from your mistakes and others mistakes.”
Griffin is making the most of the NFL’s four-day orientation program—now in its 15th year—for the league’s newest players, some of whom may think they know what’s ahead but in truth have little idea about what they’ll face as professional athletes.
Griffin’s learning quickly.
On Monday, a former Baylor basketball player was arraigned in Waco, Texas, on federal extortion charges for allegedly threatening to release “derogatory information” about Griffin unless the Heisman Trophy winner paid him a “substantial sum” of money.
According to court documents, Richard Khamir Hurd, 25, contacted a representative from a St. Louis agency, threatening to publicize derogatory information about a client unless he was paid. The representative is identified in documents only by the initials B.D. Griffin’s agent is St. Louis-based Ben Dogra.
Hurd met at a Waco business Friday with someone who agreed to handle the transaction. After signing a non-disclosure agreement, handing over the information and receiving a check, Hurd was arrested by an undercover FBI agent.
During a youth skills clinic and barbeque on Tuesday at the Cleveland Browns’ facility, Griffin declined to comment on specifics of the case, but said his situation is a prime example of what young players have to guard against.
“You’ve got to be careful who you trust,” Griffin said. “There’s vultures out there, people who are looking to climb on top of all your money.”
Griffin said the candid speeches given by Jones and Vick resonated with him. They were speaking from experience and truth, not simply mouthing words from a manual or because they sounded good.
“When you hear those guys talk about stuff and being careful and keep your circle real small—all those things come back to you when you hear about stuff like this,” he said.
The extortion case appears be a small bump for Griffin, who has already been named Washington’s starter and radiates with superstar-in-the-making potential. Although there were 123 NFC rookies on the field for the league-sponsored Play 60 event, only one commanded an interview session for media members.
Griffin answered every question with the finesse of a seasoned veteran. He came across sincere and politely addressed a variety of subjects including expectations, the inevitable comparisons to Vick and how close he came to playing for the Browns.
His blazing speed and high-powered arm have spawned Griffin’s similarities to Vick. He doesn’t mind the link.
“As long as you are getting compared to people like Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “You take it, you accept it and you play the way you play.”
He wound up playing in Washington, but Griffin was nearly Cleveland bound.
The Browns, who had the No. 4 selection, tried to trade up in the draft in order to select Griffin. But the St. Louis Rams accepted a package from the Redskins that included three first-round picks over consecutive years and a second-round pick.
“It didn’t turn out that way and I have no idea why it didn’t,” he said.
Griffin looked like the biggest kid on the field as he played with some of the 150 school children—from Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown—who got a chance to run routes, throw passes and learn blocking techniques from some of the NFL’s newest players.
Griffin lined up at wide receiver before dropping behind center. He lofted a pass for one eager 10-year-old, but the ball was flattened by the wind and fell off the youngster’s fingertips.
“That usually works,” Griffin said, flashing a smile that never faded during two hours.
Although Griffin never attended any football camps—“my mom didn’t want me to play football”—he did go to Michael Jordan’s camp in New Orleans. To this day, Griffin regrets not getting the chance to play with one of his heroes or even get his autograph.
“I’m not sour about that or anything,” he said a bit facetiously.
In between passes and touchdown celebrations, Griffin tried to impart knowledge and advice on kids who will look up to him as a role model.
He didn’t want to sound scripted, so after telling them to do their homework, Griffin reminded the kids that the most important people in their lives are parents and teachers.
“They matter,” he said. “Those are the people that can get you into good situations and they can also get you out of bad situations. So no matter what anybody says about you, they’ll stick up for you because they truly believe in you. Everybody matters, that’s the words of wisdom.”