When it comes to college football, each player’s goal varies. While some see themselves going pro, others are content with their athletic careers ending upon graduation.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association estimates that out of the 56,500 students playing football in America, only 2 percent will play professionally.
“You have a better chance at becoming a rocket scientist than going to the NFL,” said Joe Taylor. “So you better go to class.”
Taylor, the new head coach of Florida A&M University’s football team, said he doesn’t want anyone on his team who thinks he’s an athlete first and a student second.
“There is no college in America built for athletics,” Taylor said. Colleges and universities were built for teaching, research and learning, according to Taylor. And he structures his program to instill that in his players.
Individual Play Calling
The coach’s players, on the other hand – linebacker Bryan Parker and right tackle Kenneth Lanier – not only reside on opposite sides of the trenches, but their positions differ on their futures in football. Parker is steadfast on playing in the NFL but Lanier said his school is the only sure thing in his life. While former Rattler Carlos Rolle chooses to spend his spring semester after graduation trying out for the pros.
“My goal is to go to the NFL for about 13 years,” Parker said. The 20-year-old sociology student from Baltimore came to FAMU in 2006 on a football scholarship. He said aspirations to go to the league fuel his performance on the gridiron.
“We are the underdogs, we as HBCUs,” Parker said. “So you have to bring people to watch you. I have to be the best.”
The NFL drafted 255 student athletes last year, with only five chosen from historically black colleges and universities. Based on these statistics, players at black colleges have less than a 2 percent chance of going to the league.
For this reason 21-year-old Lanier said he’d rather go for the “sure thing,” which is school.
“Your career can be taken away from you. But your education they can’t take away,” Lanier said, recalling his father’s words.
So the Colorado native continues to focus on his third year in pharmacy.
Unlike Parker, Lanier has 14 seasons of the NFL in his blood. His father Ken Lanier played for the Denver Broncos from 1981-1992 and in 1994. In 1993, Ken played for the Los Angeles Raiders. Like his son, he played right tackle, but his colors were garnet and gold.
Lanier stands 6 feet 7 inches and weighs 312 pounds, 5 inches taller and 22 pounds bigger than his father. Given his size, Lanier said he thinks his chances of following in his father’s footsteps are good, but admits pursuing football is a gamble that he’d rather not risk.
Meanwhile, recent fall 2007 graduate, Carlos Rolle, refuses to let a missed opportunity at Florida State University’s Pro Day destroy his desire to play professionally.
The 23-year-old former defensive back for FAMU ventured across the tracks March 19 to participate in workouts that could have made him a prospect for the 2008 NFL draft, April 26-27.
But a reported “misunderstanding” between both schools’ athletic departments forced Rolle, along with his teammates, to go home early without fully participating in the events.
“All I wanted to do was go out and try,” said Rolle shaking his head. “That’s what really hurt me at (Florida) State.”
With a degree in public management, Rolle said he’s proud of his achievement but refuses to have his football dream short-lived because of the Pro Day incident. So for the past two weekends, Rolle has made trips to Orlando and Tampa to try out for Canadian football leagues.
And he’ll soon head to arena football and the All American Football League try-outs too.
As long as a professional football opportunity exists, he’s going to take it, he said.
When linebacker coach Timothy Edwards compared Parker to recent 2007 NFL draft Justin Durant, Parker became more optimistic about his professional career.
Durant, an outside linebacker for the Jacksonville Jaguars, played football at Hampton University where both Taylor and Edwards previously coached.
“To have them say that to me, then there’s no reason why I can’t make it,” he said.
Parker works outside of practice making sure to stay on top of his game.
He watches as much game and practice film in the football field house as he can, and sometimes takes film home to watch on his personal time. He believes it will ensure greatness on the field.
“Player-wise, (Parker) is a talented athlete gifted with some God-given ability,” Edwards said. The coach said Durant’s advantage over Parker is that he played under one coach and one system. Edwards said though Parker is working hard on the field to adjust to their new system, the transition can slow his progression on the field.
But “if Durant can make it, he (Parker) can make it,” Edwards said.
Parker said his schedule leaves little time for him to relax. After going to classes, he heads to football meetings, followed by practice, then more meetings before attending study hall. Parker said he gets motivation from his family, especially his mother if he falls off course.
“They get mad when I don’t work out or I lose weight,” Parker laughed.
While Parker listens attentively as he sits in on team meetings, Lanier tries to get an earful from the locker room, as he puts on his pads in solitude, arriving late because of classes.
Although Lanier must balance football and pharmacy, Lanier said he currently maintains a 3.4 grade point average. But Lanier said his honor roll status doesn’t come without sleepless night.
Before a pharmaceutical calculation test, Lanier recalls staying up all night studying. Heading out in the morning he had three classes prior to his test. His day was a full one; he had football meetings and practice. He was late as usual. And he still had to study, which he did before falling into bed at 4:30 a.m.
“I do feel like it’s a lot sometimes,” Lanier said. But he said he doesn’t know anyone who has completed the pharmacy program successfully while playing football. He said this challenge motivates him not to give up either responsibility.
“I don’t know how he does it, but apparently he knows,” laughed Ebenezer Oriaku, one of Lanier’s pharmacy professors.
Oriaku said the “gentle giant,” his name for Lanier, is a classic student athlete. Both areas need discipline, he said. “And he has it.”
The professor said during football season Lanier tells him when he leaving for games so he can stay on top of his assignments.
Oriaku said there’s a stereotype associated with “jocks” that Lanier could put to shame if he becomes successful in both his academics and athletics.
As an athlete, Rolle has taken steps to attain each of his goals.
“My goal was to just be on the practice squad,” Rolle said about his freshmen year at FAMU. He was able to achieve his red jersey practice status as a walk-on. Now all he wanted to do was start.
Fall 2004, Rolle started his first game during homecoming. He was elated. Though he only played one series he made his first career sack as a starter.
“I didn’t know whether to celebrate or get back in the huddle,” Rolle said. He chose the former, deciding to enjoy his moment. By senior year Rolle was starting at defensive back.
The admiration Rolle gets from his teammates is evident as they yell “C m—f— Rolle” throughout the field house.
But Rolle said he was constantly motivated to pursue the next level. He said people were telling him he could go pro. Rolle refused to let whispers in his ear derail him from finishing college.
Coach Taylor said he has his own numbers game for professional football. He said the average college player graduates at 23. If they are lucky enough to play for 13 years, which he said is unlikely; they will be 36 years old when they retire. He said black men have a life span of 76 years at the most, which leaves “40 years in between the NFL and death.”
“What are you going to do then?” Taylor asked. He said he prepares his players for life after football. He said an athlete’s life is planned: what to eat, what time to wake up, where they have to be and what time they have to be there. He said after sports, athletes need to be able to live for themselves, and “college gets information between your ears to make players better decision makers.”
“I don’t want anyone to think that God blessed you to be a uniform rack,” Taylor said. Taylor said his players are going to study hard and play hard. The coach keeps progress reports on each player from their professors to ensure they are focused in their studies.
“You can’t be a champion on Saturday if you’re not a champion all week,” Taylor said. He said success in the classroom will transfer on the field. “The only thing that changes Saturday is the atmosphere.”
Marylynn Jones, athletic director for compliance education, said students are required to pursue a degree or they are ineligible to play any sport.
“Every school has people who think they can play professionally.” Jones said. “The reality is they cannot.” She said it’s not because players lack talent, but it’s “a numbers game.”
Jones sits in her office, counseling students on maintaining his or her grades to remain eligible for sports. She said she emphasizes that “student” comes before “athlete.”
Some students have their roles reversed because “they believe they are that one (who will go pro) and their parents believe they are that one,” Jones said.
She said some students only focus on sports, especially in football. She said those serious about going pro often skip out on their final semester to participate in the NFL combines.
To thwart unfocused students, Jones said students who haven’t declared a major by their third year cannot play.
“You can’t just take random courses, you have to pursue a legitimate program,” Jones said. She said athletic programs are not allowed to operate if all their students aren’t progressing to degrees. She said players on scholarship must maintain a 2.0 grade point average to remain eligible for sports.
Last year, Parker said he was ineligible to play because he didn’t declare a major. But he said he’s undeterred in pursuing professional sports, because of the set back.
“I keep telling myself: ‘You gotta make it. You gotta be successful’,” Parker said. He said his sociology degree will help him in his endeavors to help his community if football doesn’t work out.
Lanier on the other hand said he’s steadfast in pursuing pharmacy. His goal is to keep his GPA above 3.5 and still plans on playing for FAMU’s football team.
And Rolle continues to play the “waiting game.” He is looking into graduate school for a degree in sports management so he can stay around football as an athlete or an agent.