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Symposium Teaches Rookies Other Parts Of Game


Listening attentively at the 10th annual NFL rookie symposium this week, Packers second-round draft choice Greg Jennings couldn't help but connect to what he was hearing.

One of many role-playing scenarios, designed to make young professional football players aware of what they might encounter with their newfound status and (in some cases) wealth, depicted a married rookie with a family to support who was out to dinner with several other family members and friends.

Naturally, everyone expected the NFL "star" to pick up the check, right?

"Everybody wanted him to do this, do that, pay for this, pay for that, and he couldn't say no," said Jennings, a wide receiver out of Western Michigan. "He got himself in a bind because he felt it was his obligation.

"Some of those things I've already experienced - everyone thinking you've already got millions and millions of dollars and wanting to put a hand in your pocket. We're fortunate enough to have a job that pays well over what the average employee is going to make, but the biggest thing is you still have to learn to say no."

That was one message Jennings and the Packers' other 11 draft picks brought back with them after this past week's four-day symposium in San Diego, which concluded on Wednesday.

The program, with attendance mandatory for all 255 draftees in 2006, addressed the whole gamut of off-the-field issues, financial concerns, career planning and other circumstances young players may be encountering for the first time.

"The biggest thing players (are warned about) is having that mentality of 'It's not going to be me,'" Jennings said. "That's the biggest misperception everybody has, even myself. You always think it's not going to be me, and then later on down the line it is that person.

"They're trying to make you aware of and make you think about your future now."

One way to stress the importance of considering the future now was with a statistical exercise. As Packers fifth-round pick Ingle Martin recalls, everyone in the room stood up, and the speakers started to rattle off, round by round, the percentage of players who will survive in the league long-term. The portion who wouldn't sat down.

By the end, only three of every 10 players from this year's draft class were still standing.

"They said, 'All you guys sitting down aren't going to be here,'" said Martin, a quarterback from Furman. "You're going to be doing something else, working 9-to-5. You have to take advantage of this opportunity. People would give anything for this, and it's something that doesn't come along to everybody."

The Packers players noted the panel discussions with current and former NFL players were the most beneficial. Hearing the stories from players who have been through it all already, and what they learned and what they would do differently, provided the most valuable perspective.

Some of the more prominent players in attendance included Cleveland Browns defensive end Willie McGinest, New York Jets running back Curtis Martin, and San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, among many others.

Two Packers, running backs Samkon Gado and William Henderson, also contributed to the panel discussions.

Gado, now in his second year in the NFL, talked a lot about what he encountered as an undrafted free agent last year who came out of nowhere to begin leading the Packers in rushing and gaining instant notoriety.

Henderson, a 12-year veteran, stressed the importance of finding a productive role on a team to maximize your career, and being smart financially along the way. Jennings noted Henderson made an impression on several players when he mentioned he just now began tapping into some of the signing bonus money from his first big contract.

"That just tells you that it's your responsibility to make that money last and make that money work for you," Jennings said. "You don't want to just spend and not have anything to show for it."

Hearing from two teammates at entirely different stages in their careers made an impression as well.

"You get a different perspective from both of them because they're totally opposite guys the way they came into the league and what they've done," said second-round pick Daryn Colledge, an offensive lineman from Boise State.

"Will is a guy who's been in the league a long time and knows how to stick around and do well. He talked about how you can protect your money. And Gado is one of those guys who says, 'Hey, I came from the hardest route and I've been successful so here's what you watch out for. They'll love you today but if something goes wrong they won't love you tomorrow, so roll with it.'"

The symposium concluded with a presentation by former All-Pro wide receiver Cris Carter, who emphasized what got these players to the NFL in the first place - a love for the game.

"It was just a reminder of how passionate you have to be about the game to get you through it," Colledge said. "It's never as bad as you think or as good as you think. You have to remain even keel, and your passion for the game is going to get you through those times."

As an added benefit, the Packers' rookies also felt they turned the event into a team-building experience. Unlike some, the Packers' draft picks stayed on the same floor of the hotel, ate together, worked through their session together, and generally spent more off-the-field time together in four days than they had since being named Packers in late April.

"It was a great bonding experience," Colledge said. "We hope the rookie class got to know each other better and can use that and roll it into training camp."

Martin added that the more he got to know his fellow rookie teammates, the more appreciative he is that he landed in Green Bay.

"We learned a lot about the guys, and we could see that not all the teams went after the same things Green Bay went after, bringing in high-quality guys," he said.

"We're thankful for that. It makes it so much easier to play with guys you really like and respect."

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