By Rachel Terrill, Player Engagement Insider
As a child, Kevin Houser alternated between two Halloween costumes each year. One year he dressed as an NFL player and the next year he dressed as a pilot – year after year – not knowing which dream he most wanted to come true.
Like many kids who collect autographs of their favorite NFL stars, Houser collected autographs from pilots. “I looked at pilots as superstars, just like professional athletes,” Houser said. “In fact, I took one of my plane books with me on every flight as a child and got their autographs.
“One morning when I was a child, we arrived at the airport and got on board a flight to visit my dad at work. I was wide eyed and took everything in. I remember the distinct smell of the aircraft, my seat, and being with my brother and sister, mom and dad. As the engines of the 727 roared to life, the feeling of acceleration, the pure power, and the increased g-forces at we took flight. Looking out the window and seeing Cleveland from a bird's eye view for the first time was breathtaking.
Climbing through the clouds and seeing clouds from above was something that I will never forget. Of course, at that age, I thought that they looked like big pillows that I could jump out and bounce on. I even thought that I would be able to go into the restroom, flush the toilet, and clouds would come into the aircraft. In that instance, I was going to take one, put it in my suitcase, and take to show-and-tell when I got back to school.
At cruise altitude, my brother and I were invited into the flight deck - it's too bad we are not allowed to do this anymore due to September 11. The pilots were gracious and encouraging. At that point, I was hooked,” he said.
But Houser’s dream of being a pilot had to wait. In 2000, Houser’s first dream came true when the New Orleans Saints drafted the long snapper in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.
Houser always wanted to be an NFL player, but he didn’t always know that dream could be a reality.
“My head coach at Ohio State, John Cooper, told Kristen (Houser’s wife) that I would definitely get drafted. Of course, I didn't believe him, but the wheels started spinning in Kristen's head, and she had her own input. She loved New Orleans, but Bourbon Street and the culture was a little bit of a shock to her. She said ‘New Orleans is a great place to visit, but I don't think I could ever live there.’ When we got back home, she had a conversation with her parents (lifelong Browns fans) about what Coach Cooper said. Her parents instructed me that if I were to have the opportunity to play in the NFL, Seattle would be too far and I was forbidden from playing for Baltimore (due to the departure of the Browns to Baltimore). I wound up playing for all three teams.”
Houser played in the NFL for 11 seasons. But even before his NFL dream expired, Houser went back to school to fulfill his other dream – to become a pilot.
During his 10th NFL season, Houser recognized that he should prepare for his next career. In fact, before he retired from the NFL, he completed his Private, Instrument, Commercial, and Certified Flight Instructor certification.
“Much like football, the training was intense,” Houser said. “I knew that I wanted to be the best, and to be the best, you have to spend more time studying than practicing. Just like football, in the end, the sacrifices are worth it.”
Houser and Kristen have two children, Julia and Michael. “When away, I miss my family terribly and don't enjoy being away for birthdays, holidays, and special events,” Houser said. “The flip side, and perhaps one of the greatest benefits of aviation, is the fact that you don't take work home with you. When completing a trip, your focus is on family. We work together, support each other, and have a great time when I am home.”
Upon earning his flight credentials, Houser served as a Certified Flight Instructor for six years and now trains and recruits new pilots for CommutAir (United Airlines).
Perhaps one career prepared him for the other, one dream laid the groundwork for the next, or perhaps he was just destined to have multiple dreams come true.
The transition out of football can be challenging. Houser called it one of the most difficult experiences NFL players will encounter. “Collectively, we are all trying to reinvent ourselves and gain an identity,” he said.
Becoming a pilot helped Houser and his family with their transition from the NFL. “As my aviation career continues, I want to use this and develop a platform and a program for those former players and families in transition to see the aviation field as a great opportunity to reinvent oneself.”
“We, as former players, must take care of one another and our respective families. I'm hoping that the opportunities that I have experienced will provide others with the vision and expectation that football granted us a great foundation in which to build,” he said.
What do NFL players and pilots have in common? Houser finds plenty similarities between his two professions. He provided a list:
• Both fields are incredibly fun and fulfilling
• Pilots and NFL players are held to higher personal standards than the general
• NFL game day is full of excitement, adrenaline, nerves, and high expectations. Flying is the same.
• In football, we have fans. Flying, we have passengers. Both are expecting us to win (fly the plane well) and complete our job at the highest level (win the game/land the plane).
• People are excited to talk to with both pilots and NFL players and are anxious to hear about your career and experiences
• The flight crew are like players on a team. We are what people see. What people don't generally see is all the work done behind the scenes. Most of the work is done by support staff in both fields, it is our job to execute and trust that others have completed their assignments.
• Preparation for every flight is a necessity. Just like in football, your hours of preparation and trust in your training are invaluable
• Weather dictates a different game plan
• We work on Sundays and holidays
• We are always under the media microscope
• Landing an aircraft, especially when weather or circumstances are less than ideal, gives you the same rush as making a big play
• Travel and time away from the family are part of the job
• Last, but certainly not least, both careers require us to wear uncomfortable uniforms
With one dream in the rear-view mirror and the other dream afloat, Houser is loving life. “Just like other professions, flying has its ups and downs. However, everyday I fly, I get to see the world from a view that the good Lord has day in and day out. From my vantage point, I have a front row seat to watch glorious sunrises and sunsets, the beauty of active weather, and the tremendous accomplishments of society. Looking out and seeing the Statue of Liberty, the Freedom Tower, and Times Square never gets old, and the overwhelming emotion of spectating all of God's glory reinforces that this second career continues the blessings of the first.”
Dubbed “Dr. Love” for her work on marriage and relationships, Rachel Terrill is passionate about making marriages work. Rachel is the wife of Craig Terrill, who played for the Seattle Seahawks from 2004-2011. Rachel spent the last twelve years investigating the relationships and marriages of professional athletes. Rachel earned her Ph.D. in Communication from The University of South Florida. She teaches university courses on communication and public speaking and she serves as a family advisor for the NFL Players Health Study at Harvard University. Her work is featured in radio, television, online, and print publications. You can reach her through her website at www.rachelterrill.com