To Go or Not to Go?
That is the question.
Last season a record 73 underclassmen left school early and were eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft, surpassing the previous high of 65, set the year prior.
All have made their respective decisions for different reasons. Some are simply too good not to go, some want or need the money that playing in the NFL brings, all feel they are ready.
I saw a post last week by one of my Facebook friends, questioning Johnny Manziel’s loyalty to Texas A&M after he declared for the draft. Her reasoning was that A&M had given him this tremendous opportunity and he owed it to the school to stay for all four years of his eligibility.
While I respect her right to her opinion, I couldn’t disagree more.
Manziel’s magic on the gridiron resulted in many exciting moments and victories for the Aggies, as well as the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Texas A&M has enjoyed literally millions of dollars of value in brand marketing and economic impact from his performance. The Aggies are doing just fine in this deal, and Manziel’s impact will be felt for years to come due to a huge recruiting and interest boost in Texas A&M.
But this isn’t about the school. It ‘s about Manziel and the 81 other players who have declared. This is their life; who are we to judge whether they should stay or go? Sure, we can debate whether a player is ready for the vigor of the NFL, but they have the final say.
There are some players who could have gone but see an opportunity for more maturation on the football field before going to the next level.
When A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel got a top-five grade from the NFL last year, it was a no-brainer to forego his senior season. The result – he was the No. 2 overall selection to Jacksonville. The other side of A&M’s offensive line had fellow junior Jake Matthews at right tackle (son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of Clay in Green Bay). Matthews had gotten a first round grade (expected to go anywhere between 15-25), but he chose rather to stay for his senior season and switch positions to Joeckel’s left tackle. The move has paid off, with Matthews projected to go in the top-five in 2014. Current Aggie junior Cedric Ogbuehi is following his lead, staying at A&M and moving from right to left tackle for 2014, despite getting a first round grade like Matthews last spring.
Then there are players like Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, the Huskers’ leading rusher this season. He announced last week that he was staying for his senior season. An excerpt from his announcement:
“In reaching my decision I have had to consider a number of factors such as my family’s economic condition, my projected draft position, and my long-term success, not just in football, but in life in general. In order to fully understand my decision one must know who I am and where I come from. I come from a very modest upbringing. As the youngest of my parents’ nine children, I have had to fight for just about everything I have gotten. Despite these apparent obstacles, my parents were able to instill in their children the importance of family, education, and taking advantage of life’s many opportunities. In holding true to these values, all of my siblings have completed their college education with many of them even going on to obtain advanced degrees. Despite my family’s tradition of completing its college education, I find myself in a very unique situation of having to decide between pursuing my dream of playing in the National Football League and breaking from my family’s tradition of completing our education. While it may be true that none of my siblings were presented with the possibility of playing professional sports, it is equally true that the average NFL career, because of the violent nature of the sport, is less than five years. In analyzing these truths, I have come to realize that life is bigger than football, and that my chances of long-term success in life will be greatly enhanced by completing my college education.”
Impressive words from a young man who clearly has his priorities in order.
There is no right or wrong decision for any of these young men. Each has seeked guidance and counsel from those they love and trust, and in the end, make their own decisions.
The best news – every one of these players have the ability to return to college and finish their degree. Literally hundreds do it every year. Some, like Vince Young, take a few hours each spring and build upon the education that they have started. Young graduated from Texas last year, a true example of finishing what you started. Emmitt Smith went back to Florida and graduated after his Hall of Fame career was over.
On a related note, I saw this pic on Twitter this morning from a friend that NFL kick returner Dante Hall has returned to A&M to finish his degree. He began classes this morning.
Eighty-two underclassmen will be eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft on May 8-10. Most of them will be selected by a team and most-certainly all will get an invite to an NFL training camp. I wish all 82 the best of luck. I hope all of them find the success they are looking for, especially those who ultimately finish what they started.