By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
The bigger picture.
Derrick Morgan’s rookie year with the Tennessee Titans in 2010 ended during the fourth game, a 26-20 loss to the Denver Broncos, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury that changed his perception of the game.
“Long story short, I got my life right with God and really started prioritizing that relationship,” said Morgan, who was drafted in the first round out of Georgia Tech. “The knee kind of forced me to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective. Everything was football, football, football. And so, when it was taken from me temporarily, it gave me a better perspective on life.”
In 2014, his fifth season with the Titans, Morgan moved from defensive end to outside linebacker and led the team with six and a half sacks. He topped that in 2016 when he not only was a leading tackler, but also had a career-high nine sacks and 56 quarterback pressures. The switch of positions appears to clearly be paying dividends.
“I like being able to do more things in the defense,” Morgan said. “I like dropping into coverage. I like covering different areas of the field. So, I think it inevitably helped me in the long run.”
During the offseasons, Morgan, a business major at Georgia Tech and a graduate of the University of Miami’s Executive MBA program, has prepared for his life in the long run as a tech investor. He helped start a venture capital company, Opportunity Ecosystem.
“That was more so just the result of trying to find different ways to give opportunity to kids who normally wouldn’t see opportunity,” Morgan said. “It was one initiative that kind of burst out of that passion and there’s still more to come. I have more time in the offseason for things like that, but that’s one of the first things I did to really give opportunity to those kids.”
Morgan has since partnered with Michael Peterson, who has previously worked in business development at Hewlett Packard and IBM, and launched Huddle Ventures.
“The mission now is helping facilitate exposure and opportunity for minority entrepreneurs and that takes on many different looks. But that’s at the heart of what we’re trying to do,” Morgan said.
Earlier this year, they picked up the tab to bring 100 college students with them to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Conference [SXSW], a well respected and considerably significant event for tech entrepreneurs and investors.
“I think us as NFL players; we’ve been gifted with a platform and a rare opportunity to be an example for those that are coming after us,” Morgan said. “I think it’s important that we take every opportunity to find meaningful ways to give back and to try to create opportunities for those who normally don’t see them. A majority (of the students) were from HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] and then there were some from typical institutions.
“[What I hope they took from it is] just the experience and exposure to the technology industry. That’s a wide-ranging thing for them. A lot of the kids got internships, jobs from just being in the same room and rubbing elbows a lot of those technology companies like Twitter, Google, Snapchat. Companies like that who were actual sponsors.”
Besides paying it forward and giving a hand to what’s next, Morgan is also mindful of what’s now, and seeks out counseling from experienced angel investors.
“A lot of these guys create and customize my diligence process when looking at different companies to invest in,” Morgan said. “Some will give me a checklist of things to look for, their top three things to look for in companies. Overall, they’ve helped me to have a wiser process when investing in different companies.”
Now in his eighth season, all with the Titans, Morgan is proud of his longevity in the league. Especially after having dealt with significant injuries early in his career. But looking ahead, what would the ideal situation for him after his playing days?
“I can’t say yet. I’m just kind of relying on guidance from God and really just trying to figure out what my purpose is,” Morgan said. “I feel like I’ve been blessed to be in a position in the NFL and so I’m giving my all to that.
“Every offseason, I take it upon myself to learn as much as I can to kind of see where I do feel comfortable. I feel that I definitely have a career after ball. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing as far as learning and finding out different things to be where I need to be.”