Rookie Week Teaches Rams Valuable Lessons

Posted Jun 25, 2012

The Rams rookie class helps raise the walls on a home in Joplin, Missouri last week.

For more than a month, the Rams’ 2012 rookie class spent hours upon hours doing everything they can to learn the necessities to becoming professional football players.

Be it in a classroom, on the practice field, in the weight room or even back at the hotel in which they stayed, the goal was to get up to speed as fast as possible on all things Rams football.

When all of those Organized Team Activities and minicamps came to an end more than a week ago, the majority of the Rams roster departed for about six weeks.

The rookies, though, stayed behind for a different sort of education. If the previous month and a half was intended to teach them how to become professional football players, last week was intended to teach them how to become professionals.

“We introduced ‘rookie week’ in 2010 as a way to get the rookies acclimated to the St. Louis community as well as the various opportunities and responsibilities associated with being a St. Louis Ram,” Molly Higgins, the Rams’ vice president of corporate communications and civic affairs, said.  “We are an organization that believes we have a tremendous platform as a professional sports team to bring attention to causes and help address needs in our community.   The week was designed to get them thinking about those opportunities and responsibilities  and what will be expected of them moving forward.”

Second round wideout Brian Quick received the message. 

“You have to be a professional in everything you do, and it has to be right now, you have to learn it right away,” Quick said. “You definitely have to become a professional first and foremost.”

So it was that the Rams’ rookie crop of 35 players – 10 drafted, 25 undrafted – took part in what has become a rite of passage in St. Louis, the team’s intensive “Rookie Week.”

While the lockout prevented the Rams from having a rookie week last year, the program was expanded and more in depth and arduous than ever before this year.

Beginning last Monday and running through the final event, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, on Saturday, the Rams rookies were on the go every day with little opportunity to come up for air.

“We designed the week to incorporate educational components, charitable events and stakeholder engagement,” Higgins said.  “It was an intense week, but an effective one.  I think every rookie took away valuable lessons that they will be able to immediately put into practice.  They now have a greater understanding of what it means to represent the St. Louis Rams and the National Football League.”

Kicker Greg Zuerlein certainly came away with that understanding.

“Basically, this whole week was life lessons,” Zuerlein said. “There are life lessons outside of football; there are things that are bigger than football. That’s what I’ve gotten from it. We are very fortunate and blessed to have the opportunity to play professional football but that there is so much more outside of it that we can’t lose focus on.”

Going back even a few days before the official start of rookie week, the young Rams were introduced quickly to the philanthropic side of their new profession.

On June 11, the rookies joined the entire Rams staff in Fairmont City, Ill. to help with the team’s annual playground build. For the official kickoff to rookie week, the players served as instructors for kids at a youth football camp at the Continuity X Training Center last Monday.

That night, the players took part in a bowling event for T.A.S.K. (Team Activities for Special Kids), where they bowled with the kids, posed for photos and signed autographs.

“One of our primary organizational objectives is to be a good community partner,” Higgins said.  “With that in mind, we felt that it was important to engage the rookies in some charitable events immediately, so they better understand that charitable commitment.” 

On Thursday morning, the rookies joined the Rams staff for a trip to Joplin to help build houses as part of the Governor’s Joplin Challenge. The players also took part in a Play 60 event with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Joplin.

Of the many events the rookies took part in, it was the Joplin trip that really seemed to hit home.

“It’s humbling,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “That’s the word I would use. It’s been a long week but I don’t regret it at all. I’m glad I was a part of it. Joplin stood out the most to me. To be out there and see people coming together there, it’s an eye opening experience. They got hit last year, I was glad to go out there and help a little bit.”

Running back Isaiah Pead added that the trip there helped him realize the fanbase of the Rams isn’t limited to St. Louis and the importance of including all parts of a region where a team’s reach might extend.

“I think it’s been beneficial for us, it was a humbling experience to be giving back to the community and definitely changing the community by building playgrounds and building houses where a tornado hit,” Pead said. “It’s about reaching out to everywhere we can in the state while we can and reaching out to our fanbase.”

The undrafted rookies were able to depart for home after Friday’s tour of the city, which divvied the players into four groups and allowed them to hit different restaurants and places of interest around town.

The drafted 10-player class capped their charitable endeavors for the week by handing out roses to breast cancer survivors at the finish line of the Race for the Cure.

Beyond those events, the rookies also took part in educational classes with topics such as real estate, banking, credit and other financial services. They also attended dinners with some of the team’s valued sponsors and suite holders.

The classes were part of an ongoing effort to teach the rookies about handling themselves properly upon receiving their first NFL paychecks.

“We had a few of those meetings,” Pead said. “They were real informative and hopefully we stay along those guidelines we learned and put those lessons to good use.”

The education of the rookies didn’t end with rookie week, either. The team’s drafted rookies are in Cleveland this week with the rest of the league’s drafted rookies for the annual Rookie Symposium.

Symposium week will include many of the same lessons on life and managing themselves that the rookies have been learning almost from the moment the Rams called their names back in April.

After that, the rookies will get some down time before returning for training camp on July 25. Johnson will head home to see his family and begin working out and Zuerlein will do the same.

Linebacker Aaron Brown will head back to Hawaii where he will workout on the beach and prepare himself for training camp.

For the most part, the football education will continue, even after the rookies return home.

“What I took away mostly is it’s always good to give back to the community,” Brown said. “We are so blessed to be in the position we are, it takes nothing to shake some hands or make a kid smile even if it’s just an hour out of the day or 10 hours.”

But the time to learn the lessons like that has nearly come to an end. The time has come to put that education to use.