Tonight, 32 lives will be forever changed, as the first round of the NFL draft will kick off at 8pm EST in Nashville, Tennessee. And, over the course of the rest of draft weekend, an additional 222 lives will also transform significantly, once all 254 draft picks have been made.
In the months, weeks, days, and mere hours leading up to the draft, there have been an excess of mock drafts shared on social media from NFL insiders far and wide. Mock drafts can be fun, and they tend to trigger friendly debates and hot takes out of the most opinionated of football fans.
Lost in the frenzy of mock drafts and pre-draft hoopla, though, is the reality that the young men preparing to enter the NFL have worked tirelessly to get to this point, and that they’re on the cusp of fulfilling a lifelong dream. Even further beneath all of that is the simple concept that they’re also about to enter the workforce for the first time.
For our more seasoned audience, think back to that first job you earned out of school. Did anyone outside of your friends or family really care where you ended up? When you made it to your desk for the first time, were you greeted with cheers or boos from a raucous crowd of onlookers? If you made a costly error just a few weeks into the job, did you have to hear about it on social media right after?
When it comes to the role of a professional athlete, however, these types of scenarios simply come with the territory.
That’s all fair and well, but at the end of the day, these men who may at times appear to be immortal, are in fact just like the rest of us. The NFL Draft brings that notion to life just as well as any sporting event there is.
Yesterday, we were fortunate enough to catch up with Greg Olsen, a former first round draft pick choice (31st overall) of the Chicago Bears back in 2007. Olsen, who also happens to be one of FANCHEST’s advisors, went on to join the Carolina Panthers in 2011, where he transformed into one of the best tight ends in all of football, as evidenced by three consecutive trips to the pro bowl in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
During our chat with Greg (full transcript – if you’d like to read it in its entirety), he shared stories with us about his experience as an NFL Draft prospect back in 2007, and also offered up some advice for the incoming rookie class, now that he’s a seasoned vet.
In the moments leading up to the draft in 2007, Greg felt helpless and a bit uneasy about having no control over his final destiny on draft day. After all of the pre-draft prep work that he and his peers had put into the process, they’d ultimately have no say in terms of where they’d wind up – a feeling that most fans would have trouble relating to in terms of their own careers and life pursuits.
After the Bears chose Olsen in the first round and the dust settled, it was time to transition to a new team, organization, and city. Luckily, Greg had two valuable shoulders to lean on from day one.
The first was Rex Hogan (now the VP of Player Personnel with the Indianapolis Colts). Hogan was a scout at Notre Dame University back in 2002, which was when Olsen, a top high school prospect out of New Jersey at the time, was considering which football scholarship to accept. Hogan and Olsen’s relationship began there, and flourished further once Greg made his commitment to join the Fighting Irish ahead of the 2003 season. Greg’s older brother, Christian, was also already on Notre Dame’s roster as a backup quarterback, which also certainly helped Rex’s recruitment efforts come to fruition.
Greg ultimately transferred to the University of Miami without ever playing a snap for the Fighting Irish. Despite the short-lived stint at Notre Dame, the bond between Olsen and Hogan lived on, and came full circle a few years later when it came time for Olsen to enter the NFL draft.
Hogan, like Olsen, decided to move on from Notre Dame, opting to pursue a career as a pro scout for the Chicago Bears. The two of them rekindled their relationship during pre-draft events like the NFL Scouting Combine, so it didn’t come as a major shock to Olsen when he was picked Bears in the first round. Shortly after being selected, Olsen showed up to the Bears practice facility where he was greeted by Hogan’s familiar face and presence, which proved to be instrumental for Greg during this transitional period.
Olsen also initially leaned on the shoulder of a player named Devin Hester, who was a teammate of Greg’s during their college years at Miami. Hester, who was taken in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Bears, was coming off an incredibly productive rookie season as a punt/kick return man, and was another familiar face and personality that helped Olsen feel at home right off the bat.
On the flip side, now that Greg is a 12-year veteran in the NFL, we wanted to hear the advice he’d give to this year’s rookie class, as they anxiously wait for the draft to start. Greg’s advice is below:
“Don’t dive into the weeds of mock drafts and rumors, because that’s all that they are. They’re just rumors. Trust what teams have told you, trust what they’ve told your agent, and just enjoy the process. You only get drafted once, it’s a special day, it’s a day I remember to this day; where you are, who you’re with, and once you get drafted then it’s time to go to work, time to make the most of it.”
Listening to Greg’s journey through the amateur ranks up to the pro level was fascinating on many levels. However, what hit home for us the most at FANCHEST was how the Chicago Bears organization welcomed him to their football family with open arms.
At FANCHEST we’re big sports fans, but our passion goes deeper than that. Sports have the power to enhance relationships and connect us with an identity bigger than any individual. These relationships built and nurtured through sports make life sweeter.
So, as you take in this year’s NFL Draft, our message is simple: think through the eyes of these young men, whose lives are about to change forever. Think about all the hard work they’ve put in, and how excited they’ll be when they meet their new football families on day one of rookie mini camp.
If you attend a game this year, welcome those new rookies in the same way you’d want to be welcomed as a new employee trying to make it in a new environment, because underneath all of the fanfare and hyperbole, it’s a new beginning for a young professional in his new and natural habitat.