Rams Wrap Up Rookie Week ..
By Nick Wagoner
After spending hours upon hours on the football field, in the classroom and in the locker room leaning the ins and outs of playing in the NFL since coming to the Rams either from April’s NFL Draft or right after it, the Rams’ 2013 rookie class spent the past week getting a different kind of education.
As Organized Team Activities concluded last week and the team’s veterans quickly departed for the annual summer sabbatical, the Rams’ 35-member rookie class – including seven drafted and 28 undrafted players – stayed behind in St. Louis in order to get introduced to their new surroundings.
Over the past week, the group participated in the annual “Rookie Week,” which works to give the rookies a crash course in all things St. Louis and introduces the youngsters to the community.
Rookie week began in earnest back in 2010 with the idea to help the first-year players get accustomed to their new surroundings, get a better understanding of what will be expected of them off the field and in the community and to educate the youngsters on the perils of the celebrity and fame that go with their new job.
“While ‘Rookie Week’ began in 2010, it has grown leaps in bounds in the past two years under Les (Snead), Coach (Fisher) and Kevin (Demoff) as they all place a tremendous emphasis on developing the players in order to put them in a great position to have success both on and off the field,” Rams’ vice president of corporate communications/civic affairs Molly Higgins said. “It’s an opportunity for the staff members who are involved with the players to come together and collectively prepare the guys for that transition from playing football on the collegiate level to becoming an NFL player and all of the various aspects associated with being a true professional. It’s something we all take very seriously and are passionate about.”
While the lockout prevented the Rams from having a rookie week in 2011 the program was expanded and more in depth than ever when it returned in 2012.
Last year’s rookie week began on a Monday and ran through the final event, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, on Saturday.
The program took on a similar shape this year; as the rookies did everything from participate in a football camp for kids at the new Rams’ Training Academy to lunch at local eateries such as Blueberry Hill to information sessions on things like handling their finances. That was on top of daily workouts with strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson.
“Each year, we evaluate what worked well and what could be enhanced,” said Higgins. “We have multiple planning sessions as we work to identify the right opportunities to make the greatest impact over the course of a week.”
“I think it’s valuable to go out and do this,” safety Cody Davis said. “We also get an extra week of working out and conditioning which will help us going into the break.”
Although they were plied with delicious meals from places like Scape and Pappy’s in addition to Blueberry Hill, the clear highlights of the week from a small survey of rookies centered on the opportunities they had to meet and greet some of the area’s youth.
“For me, it’s always going to be dealing with the kids,” receiver Tavon Austin said. “I love going to PLAY 60 events and things like that. We went to a couple of food spots and they were pretty good but for me it’s always fun to hang out with the kids.”
The kickoff event for the week came at the Rams Training Academy, where the rookies provided coaching for about 175 area kids taking part in a football camp as the facility opened for such an event for the first time.
Receiver Stedman Bailey wasted no time taking to the event, joking with kids and showing them how to run routes.
Having grown up in Miami, Bailey remembers what it meant to him as a kid to go to camps hosted by players like Warren Sapp and made it a point to acknowledge that it’s something he wants to do now that he has a similar platform.
“I know St. Louis is a community where a lot of kids around here really look up to the St. Louis Rams,” Bailey said. “And they probably want to pursue the dream of making it to the NFL as well so for us to do something like this is very big and I hope other teams link on to what we are doing and do it in their town as well.”
On Tuesday night, the rookies got another opportunity to spend time with some special kids at the T.A.S.K. (Team Activities for Special Kids) bowling event. There, the rookies partnered up with children from the area to participate in some bowling, sign some autographs and take some pictures.
Like Austin and Bailey, Davis found the chance to hang out with kids especially rewarding.
“I think (my favorite event) was the TASK bowling,” Davis said. “It was fun to interact with the kids and it was just a great time to be able to give them somebody to look up to and be able to let loose and get into a little bowling.”
Other events from the week included the opportunity to meet some of the team’s most valued sponsors and suite holders and attend a networking event with young professionals in the area that coincided with the traveling Pro Football Hall of Fame event at the Missouri History Museum.
Beyond those events, the rookies also took part in educational classes with topics such as real estate, banking, credit and other financial services.
The classes were part of an ongoing effort to teach the rookies about handling themselves properly upon receiving their first NFL paychecks.
“All those presentations have some useful information that some of us may not know about coming into the NFL and kind of having our first job,” Davis said.
The education of the rookies didn’t end with rookie week, either. The team’s drafted rookies will head to Ohio next week with the rest of the NFC’s drafted rookies for the annual Rookie Symposium.
Symposium week will include many of the same lessons on life and managing themselves that the rookies have been learning almost from the moment the Rams called their names back in April.
After that, the rookies will get some down time before returning for training camp on July 21.
“It’s definitely been good being around and seeing so many people who are going to give us support and it feels good to go out and give them some support too,” Austin said. “We didn’t get much of a chance to go out and look around too much besides the events that were planned for us. But it was cool to see a little bit of what St. Louis is about.”