A center, you were drafted by San Diego in 1989. After three less than stellar seasons, the Chargers made the playoffs in 1992. Two years later, you helped them win the AFC championship and play in Super Bowl IXXX. What was the key to the turnaround?
“I think Bobby Ross coming in there (as the new head coach in 1992). He really set a firm hand for us as far as a team. He had a plan and it was something he believed in, something that had worked for him throughout his career as a coach. And he told us that if we stick with the details, stick with our plans, we don’t give an inch, we don’t give a yard, that we will prevail. He instilled that confidence in us.”
Granted, San Francisco won, but was the Super Bowl experience what you expected it would be?
“I had no idea what to expect. One of our trainers had been in one with the Redskins, and he said, ‘Courtney, try and enjoy the week you’re going to be out there because A) it may never happen again. And B) after you’re gone you’ll understand how much there was. You’re going to have enough time during the game to be nervous and all that, so really try to enjoy it.’
“It was a pretty mind-blowing experience from the time we beat Pittsburgh (in the AFC Championship Game). It really went by in a blur, but I try and remember some of those good moments during that week in Miami. That was the best feeling of your life, knowing that you’re on top of the world, and that you worked hard and accomplished a goal that most people that played in the NFL never achieved.”
Playing with the Chargers for eight seasons [1989-96], when did you begin thinking about your post-football career?
“Football for me was never an end; it was always a means to an end. It was something I needed to do to get me to college. When I was in college, it was part of my obligation to RiceUniversity. But I always knew that however long of a career you have, you’re still going to have much longer time in life to live. So I was preparing for a long time to figure out what I wanted to do or at least have the skill sets so that I could be able to eventually do something outside of football.”
When did you decide that becoming a lawyer and transitioning into finance was what you wanted to do?
“Football had given me a lot. And so now what can I do after? The LSAT [law school admission test] is coming up. There was interest for a political career and I noticed that most congressmen or senators had law degrees.
“I took the LSAT and did fairly well and applied to a number of schools, and got into the University of Chicago and then applied to the business school. The law school was three years. The business school was by itself two years, so it’d only be an extra year, a four-year program combined. It’s one of the best law schools in the nation, the best business school in the nation, why waste that opportunity?”
In 2008, you co-found Hillcrest Venture Partners [www.hillcrestvp.com]. In layman’s terms, describe what you do.
“Basically, we receive capital from investors. We call them LPs [limited partners]. They have the faith that we have a smart team and that we can go out and find businesses with unique technologies, profitable technologies, and then invest in those companies.
“Ultimately, we help the company and in return for that investment, we get equity and we provide leadership, strategy, introductions to clients and introductions to different markets.”
What do you enjoy about it?
“It’s pretty much the same things I enjoyed about football. Every week is something new. We’re always looking at new companies, new technologies. I get the chance to learn something new every day and I get the chance to meet new people, find the companies, and also help the companies grow. I think that’s probably one of the most satisfying things.
“We’ve invested in some very young, raw companies. And you’re able to provide the guidance, provide the assistance. I guess in football speak, you do the blocking and tackling or help them do that so they can be prosperous.”
Still using football speak, what would be a touchdown?
“Just (recently), we had a company that was acquired by Facebook. This is a company that we had been working with for the past year and a half. We made our investment probably about six months ago. We had the confidence in them. They had a great product. They had a great team and we just helped them tweak a few things. They hit the ground running when they reorganized things and caught the eyes of several large companies. Facebook was the one that presented the best offer. So for us, that is a touchdown.”