U-17 participants gather for Welcome Lunch

By Austin Tedesco

Choice, commitment and enthusiasm.

Former NFL linebacker and current NFL Player Engagement representative Chris Draft emphasized the importance of these three values to football players from across the United States and Sweden on Saturday at University of Texas at Darrel K Royal Memorial Stadium’s Eighth Floor Lounge in Austin, Texas.

The Welcome Lunch was attended by players, coaches and parents taking part in the USA Football Under-17 International Development Week.

Draft played 13 seasons in the NFL after graduating from Stanford with a degree in economics. He now works with the NFL to prepare incoming players, as well as college and high school athletes, for their football journeys.

“I wouldn’t know how to respect the game and how to approach the game if it wasn’t for a few things that I learned while growing up,” Draft said to open his speech.

He shared three stories with the athletes and their families.

When Draft was 5, he started playing soccer. Instead of being given a ball and then let loose to roam free with it, Draft was told that he had to begin by running around the field.

Draft ran to his parents to complain. They gave him a simple choice: “You either practice with your teammates or you sit on the sidelines. You either listen to your coach or you can’t play.”

Five years later, Draft joined organized football for the first time. He loved watching the Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett with the Dallas Cowboys.

When Draft showed up at tryouts, he had his mind set on lining up in the backfield and mimicking Dorsett. The coach’s, though, wanted him on the offensive line.

Draft tried as hard as he could the first day of practice to show that he was the best running back on the squad, but when he got home he felt a soreness that soccer and baseball had never caused. Quitting crossed his mind, but his father told him that they were going to go for a run to move the soreness out.

“If you start, you’re going to finish,” Draft said.

When Draft was in high school, he had the opportunity to teach special education students through a volunteer program. The energy that the students brought to classroom had a huge impact on Draft. He was constantly reminded of their energy and desire and craved their enthusiasm.

One player at the event who exemplified the enthusiasm, commitment and choice that Draft spoke of was Tyler, Texas, quarterback Grady Atkins.

“This experience has been great,” Atkins said. “The guy sitting next to me is from Nebraska, and I just met him. I’m making a lot of friends already. It’s just cool to see the level that other kids from around the country are playing at.”

Atkins and the rest of the athletes displayed that enthusiasm Draft spoke of, demonstrating their commitment to the game as well as his choice to get better by making the trip to Austin.

“My goals are to get better and to hopefully get a starting spot out there whenever we begin our games,” Atkins said.

ONE GAME  Craig Way, the play-by-play announcer for the Texas Longhorns, opened the Welcome Lunch by speaking about the common bond shared  by everyone in the room.

“When you look around your table and you look around this room, you will see that you come from different hometowns and different states and even different countries,” Way said. “What really binds us all together during this event is a shared love for the world’s greatest game.