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The NFL’s 2017 Business Academy’s Collection of Firsts

By Vince Agnew, Player Engagement Insider

At the top of a University of Michigan lecture-style classroom, a 41-year-old business owner is soaking in information during the second installment of the NFL Business Academy. His stature is such that even sitting near the back does not hide his frame while diligently taking notes during the various professors and speakers’ presentations. When he comes across a key component on his computer during discussion, heads turn as he asks a valuable question.

It is a sharp student at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and it happens to be Hall of Fame left tackle Orlando Pace—the first Hall-of-Famer to attend an academy or boot camp sponsored by the league’s Player Engagement Department (NFLPE).

Pace (’97) along with current players Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Jake Long (’08) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (’15) are also the first number-one overall NFL draft picks to attend any NFLPE event.

However, those are not the only firsts that the academy boasts. In addition to the 10 player’s wives and significant others, Pace, Long and Winston are among a group of 35 player participants—the highest turnout ever for a boot camp. All are eager to absorb knowledge from the all-star cast of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and real estate moguls, which includes Stephen Ross, the business school’s namesake and owner of the Miami Dolphins.


Using the same hard work that fostered their success, the motivation of the record-size group is evident during each lecture and discussion by the strong questions raised and business models being produced.

Real estate has long sparked his interest of Long, a nine-year veteran, and his wife, Jackie, who is also in attendance, especially in combination with the level of involvement of her parents in real estate. However, he also admits that franchising has begun to capture his attention after spending an entire day going through the ins and outs with companies like Orange Theory, Papa Johns and Jersey Mikes.

Pace has already begun entrepreneurial work with his company Pace Transport, an independent contracting company that owns routes of FedEx in the St. Louis, Missouri area. He had a keen interest in entrepreneurship during his 12-year playing career and officially launched this endeavor three years ago. He attributes its success, in part, to the fact that he and had a plan to generate success long before it came to fruition.

“One quote I’ll never forget is, ‘Always begin with the end in mind,’ from Aeneas Williams,” Pace said. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur—I’ve always had that spirit.”

While the other two first-overall picks have narrowed their sights on a couple of specific markets, Winston, a second-year pro, is approaching the week with an open mind looking to learn as much as possible.

“I’m a big fan of taking advantage of opportunities and I’m blessed that the NFL presents this to us,” Winston said. “I came here just to put myself in the room with people who have a business-like mind. I’m a firm believer that successful people put themselves around other successful people.”

The same ultra competitive quality that these men adopted at an early age is what inspires them to keep reaching for more even when an outsider may believe that they have achieved the highest of heights.

“I’m driven by education, and learning as much as I can,” Winston went on to explain. “My whole life people have viewed me as just an athlete, but I want to be a professional at everything that I do and being around guys like Jake and Orlando, it helps me see that model. It helps me see what I need to do to hopefully one day be like them.”

Each of the participants are challenging each other as well as being challenged in each session by the Ross School of Business faculty.

“All of us are competitors and we want to be excellent,” Long said with conviction. “It doesn’t matter if it’s on the field, off the field, in the community, entrepreneurship or family life. Just sitting on the couch and not striving for that greatness isn’t in our blood or D.N.A.”

Pace, Long and Winston combine to create an abounding list of accomplishments but instead of resting on their laurels, these three men are helping to take the lead with a standard that good is never good enough.

With a couple of days still remaining on the schedule, lessons are still being divvied up generously, a healthy fellowship among current and former players is ongoing and portfolios are being diversified. However, Pace believes that some of the best business advice has come on a personal level.

“One thing that really stood out for me and it’s even for when you play—always bet on yourself no matter what,” he said. “There will be a ton of people who want you to invest in their dream, but always invest in something that you’re passionate about and invest in yourself.”

The most successful people make a point to learn from every event or experience and the 45 total participants between players and significant others are making the most of this year’s Business Academy.

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