For young players in the NFL, there’s a lot to learn – both on and off the field. Retired Jacksonville Jaguars safety Donovin Darius, a nine-year veteran of the NFL (he also had brief stops with the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders in his final year in the league), knows this well. Darius has been drawn to various mentoring and advisory roles over the years, first as a player representative to the National Football League Players Association and then as a member of its executive committee. So when he saw another, more personal, opportunity to share his knowledge and experience, he knew it was something he wanted to do.
Darius has taken two members of the Jaguars current secondary under his wing: safeties Johnathan Cyprien and Josh Evans. Darius first met Cyprien at the NFL Rookie Symposium and casually offered to meet with the young player and offer insight, if he was interested. Cyprien jumped at the chance. In short order, they brought Evans into the fold. It’s hard to tell who is the most excited and energized about this partnership.
“I think I was more excited because I like to encourage and teach,” Darius said.
Darius, who retired in 2007, dug up all of his old notebooks and began his lessons, teaching his young apprentices the routine that had served him so well during his playing days. Darius gives them a complete breakdown of film analysis; how to review and fine-tune their techniques, determine down-and-distance tendencies and formation tendencies, even how he set up his daily and weekly schedule.
But that’s not all, Darius sits and reviews each player’s film after every game and grades them on their performances, something the coaches do weekly as well. And the input has been invaluable. Evans described it as being given the key to everything he needs to know, especially when he was elevated into a starting role in week four of his rookie season.
“Coming in last year, it hit me kind of fast,” Evans recalled. “It’s been an amazing experience to have Donovin come in and mentor me and help me. The little notes and nuggets help so much. I see things differently. I take care of my body more.”
Cyprien also has seen immediate improvement and tangible improvement. “Last year, my rookie year, I was having some trouble in my open-toe tackling. One part was for me to improve my angles, and Donovin showed me how to do that.”
But it’s not just about football. Darius speaks to Cyprien and Evans often during the week to discuss the entire scope of things going on in their lives. His goal is to make sure he’s mentoring the whole person. And that passion and commitment has rubbed off on his mentees who now try to pay it forward.
“When I get an opportunity to talk to rookies I share my experience with them,” Evans said. “Anything I can do to help anyone else, I’ll do it.”
This couldn’t please Darius more because throughout his career, both in football and non-football contexts, Darius’ rallying cry has always been “communication.” He focuses on it for himself in his own life and tries to impresses it upon others.
That focus on communication is central to his involvement with TAP – the NFL’s Transition Assistance Program, which started in 2010. As a Transition Coach he helps guide and support players who are moving on from their playing careers. The adjustment can be stressful and trying, not only for the player, but for his family members. The program was created to offer direction and guidance to former players. And now there is a group of former players who themselves have been officially certified in mentoring and counseling, including Darius.
Always introspective, Darius tries to convey things he has learned not just from his training, but from his own personal journey too. “To be able to know yourself first is important,” he said. “And then a new understanding of yourself and people around you.”
He also uses this role as way to show his fellow athletes a path toward their futures.
“I can let them know that this is a great opportunity to increase your brand beyond the game. Nowadays with social media you can help to brand and market yourself. You can take one more step.”
And Darius is a great example of the steps that can be taken. He runs a foundation, and is also the proud owner of a Sports Emmy, which he won as an associate producer for the NFL Up! program.
At the end of the day, Darius wants those he interacts with to understand one simple thing that they can use to create success in any area they choose, “The quality of our life is built on the quality of relationships and that’s built on quality of communication skills.”
For more information on Donovin Darius and his various endeavors: www.donovindariusfoundation.com, www.dariusnextleveltraining.com