By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Marlon Kerner’s passion for football was so great he had to get away from the game Kerner, a 1995 third-round Draft pick of the Buffalo Bills out of Ohio State, was in his fourth season when a terrible knee injury ended a career that just ready to take hold.
The 5-11, 187-pound cornerback did all the rehab work in an attempt to come back, but the damage to the knee was too severe. His career was over, and so too he thought his days in the NFL.
After spending time in the banking world and the retail world, Kerner did return to the Bills, first as the team’s Director of Alumni in 2015 and earlier this year moved into the role as the team’s Director of Player Engagement.
“I was getting away from football,’’ Kerner said. “I didn’t want to be near football. I was getting away. I still had that passion to play, but I was done. I had dreams of coming back and getting healthy and resuming my career, but it just never happened.’’
So, he took to the “real world’’ working first at Key Bank in Buffalo and then for Target.
“I took the long way back to football,’’ Kerner said with a laugh. “But I honestly never thought I would get back to the NFL. Never thought the opportunity would come.’’
Kerner got the opportunity at Key Bank when he just happened to stop in the branch he used and saw they were looking to hire. He worked there for a few years; then moved onto retail where he spent eight more years.
“I cut a different career path,’’ he said. “I went into banking on kind of a whim.’’
Those non-football jobs have helped Kerner in his role now with the Bills, that experience in both the banking and retail worlds comes in handy when giving advice to the players on their future.
And that’s a big part of what the Director of Player Engagement does.
“Since I’ve played before I understand some of the pitfalls the guys are going to go through,’’ Kerner said. “And then some of the things they should be looking for as they get out of the game. I transitioned out of the game because of injury. I thought if I ever had the opportunity to get back I would love to impart the knowledge I’ve gained over the years to these young guys, help them to make better choices.
“Ironically, I got back and it was a long road. But I needed that, though. I needed to go through all of that. I didn’t have any other job experiences besides football.’’
During his time at the bank, and at Target, Kerner didn’t stay completely away from the Bills organization. He made appearances as a former player, did some work for sponsors.
Then, as he said, “out of the blue’’ the Director of Alumni job opened. He took that in August, 2015 and now is a key member of the “new’’ Bills under first-year head coach Sean McDermott. His message to the players is simple.
“Just getting them to understand what it means to be a professional when you’re playing,’’ he said. “How to do things the right way. But also understanding the game is going to end for you some day. It may be tomorrow; it may be 13 years from now. But when it does end what is your plan? Because even if you play 13 years, and you’re 21 when you’re start, you’re only 34 years old.’’
Kerner’s career ended when he was just 24.
“I loved it so much, but I was so disappointed,’’ Kerner said of the end of his playing career. “I wasn’t mad at the organization. I was more disappointed that I didn’t achieve all that I wanted to accomplish. I had all these goals. I wanted to play 10 seasons. I wanted to play in a Pro Bowl. I wanted so many interceptions. But then I thought about it, and while I didn’t achieve those goals, I did achieve some of my goals.’’
And he’s still achieving those goals in his new role with the Bills.