On Tuesday night rookie QB Greg McElroy spoke at the annual Florham Park Falcons end-of-year banquet. The dinner honored each player in the Falcons program, which consists of three teams covering the third through eighth. Players wore their black and yellow Falcons jerseys and their families looked on in recognition of another hard-fought football season.
Between the introduction of the Falcons B (fifth- and sixth-graders) and Falcons C (seventh- and eighth-graders), McElroy took 10 minutes to share his youth football experiences with those in attendance.
In Southlake, Texas, football may be king, but growing up, McElroy was not a member of its court. He admitted to being a "hefty" kid, with little to no natural athletic ability. In fact, his football career began in third grade as a center.
"I liked to go out and play, have fun with my friends, but I wasn't always active and I ate a lot," McElroy told the audience. "Therefore, I gained a lot of weight and had to play offensive line. But I loved it, and I still miss it."
McElroy continued to play offensive line until seventh grade, when he slimmed down too much to be effective. Although he considered himself to be "the worst player on the team," he enjoyed the game and wanted to continue playing.
"I wasn't very fast, too small to play offensive line, couldn't tackle," he said. "But I could throw it OK."
At that point he committed himself to playing quarterback, a decision that has paid off. The transition was difficult, but the benefits that have come from remaining loyal to the game have been priceless.
"This is the greatest game in the entire world," McElroy told the dozens of young players. "These guys you're with now will be your best friends for the rest of your life. When I get married, my best man will be my left guard from my first pee-wee football team."
McElroy's youth football experiences helped him become the person he is today, and he hopes he positively affected the Falcons.
"I remember sitting in that chair several years ago and just looking up to former NFL players," said McElroy after he addressed the crowd. "I remember specifically that [former Cowboys LB] Dat Nguyen came to talk to us when I was in Dallas, and that had a lasting impact on me."
The core of McElroy's message became clear as he wrapped up his speech. Drawing upon his own experiences, he gave valuable advice to many players with NFL dreams.
"Figure out what you do well," said McElroy. "I don't care if it's blocking, or something off the field, or being a leader, but exploit that. Whatever you don't do well, work as hard as you can to do it better."
McElroy said afterwards that the lessons the young Florham Park Falcons are learning now will be important down the road.
"Adversity, conquering the elements, leadership, work ethic — football teaches you all those things on a daily basis," he said. "A lot of kids are very thankful when they become older for the lessons they learned when they played football."
In an era of freakish athletic ability and 30-second highlights, youth athletes sometimes get caught up in trying to emulate their flashy NFL role models. According to McElroy, that will get you nowhere. It certainly didn't get him to this point.
"There are a lot of talented guys who can't learn the plays," he said, "and that's the difference between a superstar and an average player."