When the season ends for an NFL player, the time off is often welcomed. But after the bones heal and energy is regained, many players find themselves looking for ways to occupy their hours.
Packers offensive tackle Kevin Barry found himself in that exact situation.
When Barry entered his first professional offseason after concluding his rookie campaign with the Packers, he found himself with some free time he wanted to fill. He spoke with Edgar Bennett, the Packers' director of player development and former Green Bay running back, about potential opportunities to work with kids.
"(Bennett) asked about things I had been involved with before," said Barry. "I told him I did track in high school. He told me there was a high school where some of our players helped with lifting and conditioning. I went over there and started helping out."
Barry, coming into his third professional season with the Packers, just finished his second assisting prep athletes at West De Pere High School. During that time, he has worked with the track team in shot put and discus and worked in the strength and conditioning program, working with members of the track and football teams.
Barry is one of many players locally and throughout the league involved in what the NFL has officially titled the High School Internship Program.
Bennett estimated the program developed into its current form in the mid-1990s and didn't really become popular until the last few seasons. All internships must take place during the NFL offseason between February and June and the interns must be active players.
The league's primary goals for the program are to provide players with coaching experience on the high school level and to support the NFL's youth development initiative by giving young athletes a chance to work with professionals. Equally important is the establishment of a model where all teams can help their local high schools with coaching and life skill initiatives.
At least 12 Packers have been involved in the program this year at different local schools including Torrance Marshall, Marcus Wilkins, Brennan Curtin and Earl Cochran.
Among former participants in the program are Ahman Green, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Najeh Davenport.
Barry stressed that the program is not only great for the high school athletes, but for players to become more comfortable in their new NFL cities.
"It helps to get out in the community and have people see your face, because they don't know what you look like under your helmet," Barry said "It's good to get out in the community and it's good to know what your environment is all about."
Barry is also cognizant of the influence a professional athlete can have on a teenager.
"A lot of kids will listen to their high school teachers," Barry said, "but when a guy who is in the public eye and considered a role model comes in and tells you something, I think maybe they will take that to heart more."
Bennett is pleased with the results he's seen from the program. In Barry's case, Bennett only had to point him in the right direction and things grew from there.
"I introduced him to the high school coach and internship program and it was a perfect match," Bennett said. "Kevin had the opportunity to put the weight room and track events schedule together. He has flourished at it and I think it has paid off for him, as well as for the kids."
Bennett played professionally from 1992-99, when the internship program had not yet become popular. He feels it would have been advantageous for him and his teammates to connect with young people.
"It gives us another avenue to visit with some of the local kids and I think that's important," Bennett said. "In order for us to go out and visit with the kids (when I was a player), it was more speaking engagements and things of that nature. This program is different from that because you're working with them for six weeks and you really get to know them. It's a unique experience for the kids to get to work with players on this level."
Bennett explained the mentoring role for which the players involved with the program are responsible. Developing a young athlete's muscles is one thing, but cultivating a proper attitude is equally important.
"We tell our players to talk to kids about their experiences of things like balancing academics and sports and how to deal with peer pressure," Bennett said.
Bennett provides players in the program a bullet-point sheet of things they should emphasize to the student-athletes. He tells players to pass along suggestions to the kids on what skills are needed on and off the field in order to move up to the college or professional ranks, including time management and general off-field conduct.
Both Bennett and Barry agree that the program is mutually beneficial for the Packers players involved and the students they teach.
"I think talking with guys early on in their careers would've been something that would've helped me and I believe it helps the kids around here," Bennett said. "I think it also reminds players of some of the things that allowed them to come up and play for the Green Bay Packers."