By Jim Gehman, Engagement Insider
A guard from Georgia Tech, what was your reaction to being chosen in the first round of the 1979 draft by the then-Los Angeles Rams?
“One of the big things, it was a simple thing but it was important, cold weather is not one of my favorite things. My prayer was to go to a warm weather team, and that was certainly answered by going to the Rams.” [Laughs]
Moving from your hometown of Americus, Georgia – population a little over 16,000 – to Los Angeles, where there’s a few more people than that, was it much of a culture shock?
“Well, in between those times, I spent four years in Atlanta (at Georgia Tech), and so I don’t think so much so. It was different than I expected with the view of Hollywood and what all that means, but not so much of an adjustment. I think that’s one of the things that I do well, anyway, just kind of naturally roll with the environment.”
Even with a so-so 9-7 record your rookie season, the Rams rolled into the playoffs, won the NFC championship and played in Super Bowl XIV [a 31-19 loss to Pittsburgh]. You couldn’t have chosen a much better time to enter the NFL.
“Oh, absolutely not. That was the thing. I didn’t know how tough it was to get there. I guess my thinking was, ‘Naturally, we’ll go to the Super Bowl every year.’ Well, I spent the next eight years of my career trying to get back. And so I really found out in retrospect, how big of a thing it was.”
One thing you did off the field was bring a little home cooking to L.A. Had you always been handy in the kitchen?
“I wouldn’t call it handy. I’d call it, I guess, efficient. I could make something that was good to eat. Not necessarily beautiful like being a chef or something, it was more out of necessity at that point. Unless you want to eat out every day, I had to start cooking at home.
“[Rams wide receiver] Drew Hill and I were roommates. So that was kind of the deal. I cooked and he cleaned up. And so during that period, I learned a lot. I started with some skills I had from home, but I definitely honed up on them while we were doing that.”
After earning five trips to the Pro Bowl over nine seasons with the Rams and then-Houston Oilers, and spending nine years as an assistant athletic director at Georgia Tech, you began to hone in on chocolate chip cookies.
That led to Kent’s Country Cookies being born in 2006. How’d you get into the business?
“My grandmother had taught me how to make cookies when I was growing up because I was always hungry and always wanted her to make some. And one summer, I was like eight or nine, she decided to teach me so I could do it myself rather than get her. My mom continued it when I was back home.
“So I knew how to make them, but ironically, I don’t think I baked them at any time in college or in the pros. I was around so many hungry folks at that point; I probably figured I couldn’t make enough of them. But after I retired, I was giving them away at holiday time to friends and family and neighbors and people just really raved about them, and encouraged me to do something with them.
“So I did, and started to share them with some folks and went corporate and we started getting orders. There was a moment when I tried to discontinue it, but I couldn’t because the orders kept coming. So we ended up with Kent’s Country Cookies and it’s been going strong since then.”
How do you sell them?
“We sell them in Whole Foods stores in Georgia. We have corporate customers and they’re either sales organizations or membership organizations. They’ll send them to their customers or clients as appreciation gifts. Most of our cookies go out that way and we have some outlets like at the Atlanta airport. And then on our online store [www.kentscountrycookies.com] is where we sell to the general public.”
You offer five varieties of chocolate chip cookies and an oatmeal raisin cookie. What sets them apart from your competition?
“Our products are all natural. It’s exactly the way my grandmother taught me to make them. All of our ingredients and packaging and everything, they’re very sustainably produced. We use cage-free eggs. We’re concerned how the animals are treated and any component that’s contributing to our cookies. All of those things end up being real important to us.
“And the healthy part of it is that if you can’t read or spell the ingredients by the time you’re in the third grade, it’s not in the cookie.” [Laughs]
Another thing you’re doing that involves far fewer calories is giving motivational speeches. Some times teaming up with former Buffalo Bills linebacker Shane Nelson. What do you hope the audiences that you have with companies and organizations take away from the presentation?
“A big part of the compensation for me is when people have in many cases, very, very personal wins. Where they may have had a relationship that was going south with a spouse or a child, some of the information we share with them might help them mend some of those relationships. Thinking more effectively can help you achieve your goals better, and that’s what we try to share with the clients that we serve.
“We’re helping them increase performance, and in doing that we’re helping people to grow. Personally grow, professionally grow, and then collectively help their organizations to be more effective.
“Shane and I partner and work under the umbrella of the Pacific Institute out of Seattle, and we do some other things under our separate umbrellas. My company is the Performance Ascension Group. And Shane’s company is called Huddle for Success.
“We’ve got a number of other associates that work in the business and help us with our project in terms of other components that we bring forward. But he and I, we love working together. Our similar backgrounds kind of brought us together. We have a similar view on things. And our customers, which is the best thing about it, benefit from that.”