THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The Rams launched their inaugural Scouting Apprenticeship Program in August of 2020, aiming to provide experiential training, one-on-one mentorship, and networking opportunities for the 10 selected minority and female candidates.
Now in its second year, the program has morphed into a two-year fellowship, with seven of the original 10 working a second year with the Rams (the seventh, Mickey Grace, is joining back with the program this spring after focusing on her duties as Dartmouth's defensive assistant this past fall). All of those original 10 either got promoted or pivoted to the opportunity they have now, with those in their second year in the program working like a scouting assistant.
Ahead of Sunday's Inspire Change game, this is how they have been, and continue to be, empowered in their pursuit of a career in scouting.
Central to the scouting apprentices' ability to execute their jobs and contribute in Year 2 is a strong foundation laid in Year 1 through that hands-on experience and intentional one-on-one mentorship.
At the root of it: Voicing opinions on players with conviction.
The scouting apprentices have been a part of the evaluation process via studying players' injury histories and helping area scouts assess players from small schools, as well as tracking player invitations and interview operations for all-star games.
"I wasn't afraid to like speak up, but really just voice my opinion, but be concise and be direct with it," said Michael Young, a former NFL linebacker, scouting fellow for the New York Jets and Senior Bowl scout who is in his second year in the program. "Being very detailed, as far as how you want to present your player, whether you're high on them or whether you're low on them. Just staying firm on your belief in that aspect of whatever you want to say about the player for the most part."
Jordan Brown, Pro Camps' Operations Coordinator and a former intern with the Indianapolis Colts, also took away the same valuable lesson from his first year in the program.
Brown understands the Rams wouldn't have them on board if they didn't value their opinions, so it's important to stay strong when presenting them and not letting others sway them, no matter what their title in the Rams' scouting department of whoever they're presenting to is.
"It could be very well if I had a certain feeling about a guy, and let's say (general manager) Les (Snead) thought the guy was horrible, then I may be more likely to try to sway my opinion to please him," Brown said. "So I think that's probably been the biggest thing, is just sticking with my gut, trusting my eyes with what I'm watching."
A premium is placed on their preparedness and the details. Scouting apprentices' mentors emphasize the importance of concise and accurate reports. One liners – like saying a player can make a guy miss in a phone booth to describe his agility – are an important piece to that.
"The number one thing is being on time with everything you do," said Louisiana Tech Director of Recruiting Sherman Wilson, whose mentor this year is Rams Southeast Area Scout Billy Johnson. "Being concise, doing it correctly the first time. I mean, we all make mistakes, but try to go over it as many times as possible, so that you minimize mistakes."
Mentors in the program are accessible to the apprentices in many ways, and no stone is left unturned by them, down to the smallest details – like proper use of the tools of the trade.
Young recalled his mentor – Rams Assistant Director, College Scouting Ted Monago – teaching him the proper way to hold the stopwatch on the 40-yard dash because of the impact it can have on a scout's credibility if done incorrectly.
"He was like, 'Hey, don't use your thumb, use your trigger finger, you know what I mean?'" Young said. "And I just would've never thought, that, hey, it would've made that much of a difference when I'm looking at a prospect run the 40-yard dash or the short shuttle. He said, 'No, because that's one minor detail that you have to learn when you're on the road in this business that, you don't want to lose credibility right away because you're holding the stopwatch wrong or something like that.'"
That accessibility also expands beyond the realm of scouting.
Grace, who was mentored by Rams Senior Personnel Executive and 28-year NFL personnel veteran Brian Xanders, not only gained a better understanding of the language Rams scouts use to communicate with one another, but also other aspects of a front office, because Xanders also talked about "everything from resume-building, to cap space, to how to build your cap and look at those budgets."
"The meat and potatoes of it was scouting and learning to evaluate and trusting your eyes and knowing that what you see may not be what everyone else sees," said Grace, who added they talked weekly during her first year in the program.
James Bullock, Director of Compliance at San Jose State University, has gotten value not only out of building relationships within the Rams' personnel department but outside of it as well.
Former Rams Director of Pro Personnel Ray Agnew, now the assistant general manager for the Lions, was Bullock's mentor during his first year in the program, and they still call and text each other. It's not surprising they still stay in contact, given how Agnew stressed the importance of building relationships – in addition to good one-liners.
The program has allowed Bullock to not only learn the ins and outs of the scouting world, but also build more relationships with members of NFL front offices.
"To me, that's probably the most important component to the apprenticeship," Bullock said. "To be able to network, text, FaceTime, call, pick the brains of some of the professionals that work in the scouting world, I think that's absolutely amazing."
The apprentices put it all together Saturday morning on a video conference with program mentors, as well as Snead and Rams Director of Draft Management James Gladstone. Each apprentice was asked to present their evaluations of small-school players, an opportunity to use the responsibilities they were given to apply what they've learned, building on the educational and mentorship curriculum from Year 1 to create an experiential Year 2.
That type of environment is one of the many ways they have been given the confidence to continue to pursue a career in scouting.
"I think the big thing is that this has given me a great scouting compass, if that kind of makes sense," said St. Petersbrug (Florida) Lakewood High head coach Cory Moore. "It put me in the right direction of, first of all, it let me know this is what I really, really want to do. And I think it's amazing that they allowed us to be in a position where we get real-time work, we work with real events, and we have responsibilities, we've got real duties. Because of that, it gave me the reality of what this job really entails."
For those like Grace who pivoted to another opportunity last fall, it's taught translatable skills to those new roles.
Grace's duties for Dartmouth include grading practice each day, and she uses the same critical factors the Rams use in their evaluation process for hers. She said she doesn't get to see her scout team – she only gets to see their film during the regular week, so that film serves as her report card.
"It's given my players a really clear understanding of like, what I'm looking for, how I'm grading you," Grace said. "I've had guys come up to me like, 'Oh, did not get gap-and-a-half.' They know what I'm going to see, and so it's nice having that communication with them, for them to hopefully play at a higher level."
University of New Haven defensive line coach and former NFL linebacker Beau Bell said he's dreamed his whole life of getting a job in the in the NFL.
At first, it was wanting to be a player in the league, and "unfortunately, it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to."
The past five years, his focus has been on becoming a scout in the league. Through his experience in the scouting apprenticeship program, he feels confident about being able to achieve that new ultimate goal.
"It's been amazing, especially going into year two, and it's definitely given me the confidence to be able to ensure myself that hey, look, being able to evaluate players, understanding the detail that goes into it, you know, understanding the lingo that, the Rams have their own lingo that they use and their own skills that they use, and every other team is different," Bell said. "So it's kind of like learning the playbook. Everybody's different, different lingo, but it's the same traits that you're looking at, the same characteristics you're looking for. Being able to articulate it verbally and in written communication, it has definitely been given me the confidence to do that. Going into the future of it, if I'm blessed to get an opportunity to become a full-time scout, I definitely have a little more confidence going in with this experience."