SALISBURY — This spring, current and former professional athletes are encouraging high school students across Rowan County to reach their goals while dodging drugs and alcohol.
“From being a freshman in high school to being a senior in college, those eight short years are the most impactful part of your life,” Brad Nortman, punter for the Carolina Panthers, told North Rowan High School students.
Choices that young people make during that time can change the direction of their entire lives, he said.
Nortman spoke Thursday morning as part of the “Sold Out” assembly program, created by Roman Gabriel III, former professional football player and the son of NFL quarterback Roman Gabriel.
Both football players encouraged students to set goals, keep pursuing them and stay away from drugs and alcohol.
“To be successful, you need to have hard work and make good decisions,” Nortman said. “We all know what those are — to not do drugs, to work hard in school, to work on your athletics and so on.”
He said he has friends who could have been pro athletes but got caught up in drugs and alcohol. Most of the athletes he knows today don’t mess with that, he said, because they’re too focused on their passion.
“It might seem cool, and it might seem like the thing to do at the time, but it’s really not,” Nortman said.
When it was Gabriel’s turn to speak, he shared a personal example. His younger brother, also a promising athlete, quit sports when he started drinking in his junior year of high school.
“I didn’t find out he was an alcoholic until he was 31 years old,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel said his brother is OK now, but every morning, he now has to wake up and ask, “Am I going to drink today? What am I going to do to not drink today?”
In addition to North Rowan, Gabriel also spoke at West Rowan, East Rowan and A.L. Brown high schools this week. He will visit Salisbury High School today, and on May 14, he plans to speak at Carson and South Rowan high schools.
Other scheduled guest speakers include Armanti Edwards, Carolina Panthers wide receiver; Renaldo Wynn, former football player for the Washington Redskins; Eugene Robinson, former Green Bay Packers Super Bowl champion and current Panthers color analyst; Dwight Stone, former running back for the Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers; and Troy Sanders, Appalachian State football Southern Conference champion and incoming NFL safety.
In the fall of 2012, Gabriel adapted his statewide assembly program for a younger audience and brought it to all middle schools in Rowan County and Kannapolis.
The Rowan County Sold Out Program is sponsored by the Rowan-Kannapolis ABC Board, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the Salisbury Police Department.
“After having now witnessed the inspirational and moving presentation of one of your ‘Sold Out’ programs,” Terry Osborne, general manager of the Rowan-Kannapolis ABC Board, wrote to Gabriel, “I wanted to take this opportunity to praise your initiative to reach our youth on the dangers of alcohol and drug addiction as well as your intense motivational message of setting goals and instilling the concept of ‘staying the course’ to achieve those goals.”
In addition to urging them to stay away from drugs and alcohol, Gabriel gave the North Rowan students four more pieces of advice to help them succeed in life.
The first: “You are not entitled to anything.”
Success comes with hard work, he said, and young people who are taught that they’ll be rewarded otherwise will soon learn a hard lesson. He said the best athletes and other professionals got where they are today because they wanted to be more than average — they wanted to be the best.
Gabriel’s second piece of advice is for young people to find what they’re passionate about and do it. Set goals and stay the course, he said.
“When you’re prepared and work hard and love what you do, pressure isn’t a big deal. It’s just something you’ve got to overcome,” he said. “If you haven’t found what you want to do, keep trying.”
Third, Gabriel encouraged the students to persevere through difficulty, because “until you understand how to deal with failure, you will never succeed at level you were made to succeed.”
His fourth piece of advice is to learn how to compete and love it. The more they compete, he said, the better they will become at what they love to do.
“Your whole life, you’re going to compete against people who want what you want,” he said. “That’s part of life.”
He ended the presentation by asking the students to agree to a pledge to stay drug-free and alcohol-free.
Cameron Sifford, a junior, said the program was especially interesting to him as an athlete.
“I do football, and I don’t want to do drugs or smoke or drink and mess up on the field,” Sifford said. “I mean, I want to go to college to play football. I want to protect my body.”
Young, a senior, said she appreciated hearing a new perspective on alcohol and drugs.
“I think it’s mind-changing to hear it from somebody else who’s not your teacher or parents,” Young said. “Getting to hear it from other people, especially people who went that far, it opens your mind more.”