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February 13, 2013Every kid who plays football at Michigan or some similarly big-time football program undoubtedly has dreams of continuing their career in the National Football League. The blunt truth of the matter is that not everyone will achieve that goal.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke and his entire staff want to do everything in their power to provide kids with the necessary tools to be successful - both within and outside the sport of football.
Tuesday evening, the Wolverines focused on the latter. They invited former Michigan players who have carved out successful careers in a variety of fields - from law to entrepreneurship to education and beyond - to Schembechler Hall, where they met with any current player who has an interest in their particular field.
"As a football player, the NFL is not a guarantee," junior defensive lineman Jibreel Black said. "You can look at statistics, and you understand that. Programs and activities like this have really helped me put together a Plan B for my future. It's smart."
About 50 former players returned to Ann Arbor for the event. They held a Q&A for younger players and then had dinner while upperclassmen traversed from table to table, asking about different professions they may be interested in.
"It's very important," said former U-M linebacker Dhani Jones, the evening's keynote speaker. "To talk to the guys who have been down the road you will travel at a later date, it's important to get that 50,000-foot view of what's going on in life. A lot of people at the collegiate level, you get to 10,000 feet, but all of a sudden you're in the real world and you're back to ground level. You don't know what obstacles are coming up, and the former players here know how to guide you through."
The event, called The Michigan Football Alumni Network Dinner, celebrated its sixth anniversary this year. It started as the brainchild of Clay Miller, a former offensive lineman (1981-85) who founded Stone Arch Capital, a private equity firm in Minneapolis, five years ago.
Along with programs like M-PACT (Michigan Professional and Career Transition), the annual networking event has helped Wolverines plan ahead in their professional lives.
"This is what makes Michigan different," Miller said. "You can talk about other schools but Michigan sells not only the football opportunity but the university as a whole. It's an Ivy league-caliber degree but the degree itself is not an end - it's a mean's to an end, and this is the other half of it.
"You come to Michigan, you get a great education, you play at an unparalleled level athletically and when you graduate from school there is a universe of alumni out there that are there to help you get your foot in the door and help you start your career to become very successful.
Before the former players attended a meet-and-greet session with the Wolverine upperclassmen, Hoke gathered them in the team room to express his gratitude and discuss the ways the program has helped the program.
Hoke was grateful to have a formal event - the players showed up in suits and ties - where he and the staff could stress the importance of education and life after football.
"I think the response has been really positive," Hoke said. "This just continues to grow. Each year is a little different like each class is, but having Dhani, who will be a keynote speaker, I think that familiarity will help.
"Roy Roundtree a year ago really got a lot out of this. I can remember him specifically talking about meeting some guys that have been very successful in what they're doing."
He also told the former players that events like this one have helped Michigan stand out to potential prospects on the recruiting trail.
"This even something we talk about during recruiting," he said. "Because of the competitiveness of recruiting, and how it is today, we talk about things like this, about how special Michigan is. This is just another demonstration of how special this university and football program are. Going on 134 years, this is what it has all been about."
The players who attended were very eager to get to know the former players and learn from their personal experiences in the professional world.
"It sort of exemplifies these Michigan Men coming back and reaching out to help us because they've been in this position before," junior cornerback Courtney Avery said. "They were seniors in college and understand what we're going through where we just don't know what the future holds for us and they want to make that transition easier on us.
"There are a lot of different careers that are interesting to me. I want to go to law school so I met with one of the lawyers to talk about what he does and think about a few different types of law that I might want to practice. It's definitely a great resource and this is a great event."
"You really don't know what Michigan has to offer completely until you come to an event like this," added running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. "There are a lot of days where it's all about football, but at the end of the day you have to take your education seriously, and I think this is a good reminder because all of these guys that come back, they're not living off millions that they made in the NFL, but by what they learned in school. It's starting to sink in with me because I really want to make a difference and the next level isn't promised to anyone."