Last week in Carlsbad, Calif., four New York Jets newcomers joined the rest of their draft class at the NFL Rookie Symposium, four days of learning for the league's freshest faces. The 252 players who attended (only three draft choices were excused for medical reasons) were given an introduction to life in the pros.
"I thought there was a lot of good information for us rookies," said Jets fifth-round fullback John Conner, who attended along with Kyle Wilson, Vladimir Ducasse and Joe McKnight. "Going into it, I didn't know it was going to be as good as it was. I didn't know what to expect. But coming out of it, I got a lot of good information."
The products of varying backgrounds — small colleges and huge universities, tiny towns and big cities — these NFL rookies learned the basics of life in the NFL and received some great take-home messages.
"It was a very nice experience, something I definitely needed," said Wilson, the Jets' first-round cornerback. "What I took from it is having a plan for whatever I'm going through, finances and any other thing going on off the field. Another big thing was just using your resources, talking to your player development directors, veterans on your team. You have resources and there's always a way for someone to help you with a problem you might have."
From learning how to handle their money to renting their first apartment, the rookies learned the basics of how to prepare for the unique lifestyle that the NFL provides. The most interesting information, however, came from the guest speakers who headlined the symposium. The speaker who seemed to resonate the most with the players was former NFL wide receiver and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter, who learned responsibility the hard way during his career.
"Cris Carter, he kept it real," said Ducasse, the second-round offensive lineman. "He came in and he just went deep with us and shared the stuff he was doing, how he got caught and learned from it. That was the turning point in his life."
Carter was cut by Philadelphia Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan, the father of Jets head coach Rex Ryan. He went to the Minnesota Vikings in 1990, now has wisdom to impart on the newest generation of NFL players. Despite the rookies' excitement to join the league, life in the NFL isn't all roses and the temptations are countless.
"Cris Carter was very honest, very realistic, didn't hold anything back and we appreciated his words," Wilson said. "It wasn't all everything you think you'd want to hear. It wasn't just the good stuff, it was the bad and the ugly, too. It was very appreciated."
Throughout the addresses to the players, a consistent message was reinforced, one that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hoped to instill in these new players in light of recent off-the-field incidents among NFL players.
"Choices, decisions, consequences," Ducasse said. "Those were the three words that we covered. I think I learned a lot. If you look at most players around the league, and if they were to follow those three words, they wouldn't be in the trouble they're in right now."
Carter wasn't the only one to make an impact on the players, as Goodell and other players also took the podium. Current Jet Tony Richardson, former Jet Lorenzo Neal and even second-year players like James Laurinaitis and Everette Brown gave their impressions of the NFL to the rookie class, providing advice about their responsibilities moving forward.
At the end of the four-day symposium, these four brand new Jets came away with a ton of knowledge to utilize as they turn their attention to their day jobs.
"Take care of my body, get a better understanding of the playbook and probably take care of some stuff off the field in terms of living situation and stuff like that," Wilson said. "My main focus is on camp and becoming a better player."