NFL: Former Saint speaks at Livingstone

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 24, 2011

By Laurie Willis
SALISBURY — A former player for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints told Livingstone College students recently to never lose sight of their dreams.
He also reminded them that sometimes believing in themselves is half the battle.
And Willie Whitehead Jr. should know.
Though he played professional football for eight seasons, Whitehead’s career wasn’t smooth sailing by any means. For starters, he walked on the football team at Auburn University because he didn’t receive a scholarship to play collegiate ball after high school. And before he was signed by The Saints Whitehead spent several years in the Canadian Football League and was also cut by the NFL’s Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers.
“I’m very passionate about affecting the lives of people all over the world, and especially students,” Whitehead said. “My life story is a long journey”
Seconds into his speech, Whitehead asked Varick Auditorium audience members to stand, pound their chests and say, “I am a champion.” Then he asked students, faculty and staff to turn to their neighbors and tell them the same thing.
“You all exemplify every aspect of a champion,” Whitehead said. “All of you have a champion in you. It’s just a matter of developing it.”
The assembly featuring Whitehead was sponsored by the athletics department. Dorian Edwards, a junior business administration major from Kinston, presided.
Whitehead encouraged students to visualize what they want to accomplish and to work diligently to realize their dreams.
“I had to be definite and certain that no matter what I was going to achieve my goal,” Whitehead said. “You have to establish a game plan. You have to stay committed to the end.”
Whitehead played for the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats and also the Frankfurt Galaxy of the NFL’s Europe league before eventually making it in the NFL.
He told the students he wrote his goals on paper, taped them to his wall and read them daily before leaving his Canadian apartment. His primary goal was to play in the National Football League.
“Faith is about taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” Whitehead said, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Students must constantly focus on their goals, write down affirmations and put emotions behind those affirmations, Whitehead said. “Make your dream a must and not a wish or a should,” he said. “Maintain faith in God and in yourself and in your vision. Create a vision board of things you want to achieve and people you emulate. And stay away from naysayers and people that are not lining up with your vision.”
Edwards, who is also president of Livingstone’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said he thought Whitehead’s message was powerful.
“With him being a Christian man in the NFL, I know it wasn’t easy,” Edwards said. “…After he finished college he didn’t get drafted, which means officials didn’t consider him good enough to play in the NFL. But he never gave up. That’s pretty much what we’re taught to do as athletes as we go through life. Never give up.”
Edwards, a defensive tackle for the Blue Bears, didn’t give up this year despite the team’s 1-9 mark. He continued playing football and participating in other extra-curricular activities.
Edwards is president of the college’s honors program, has a 3.69 GPA and is also junior class president. He hopes to play professional football someday but says if that doesn’t happen he’s preparing himself academically to be successful in other ways.
Whitehead, founder/CEO of The Willie Whitehead Foundation, never gave up on his dream to play in the NFL but had a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Auburn to fall back on in case it never materialized.
He said he enjoyed sharing his message at Livingstone College because he believes in giving back to the community.
“I’m dedicated to helping change the lives of as many young people as I can,” Whitehead said in an interview. “Through my foundation I’ve established The Whitehead Way Youth Outreach Program which helps kids who are dealing with some serious issues and challenges. The saying that it takes a village to raise a child is more than mere words to me. I plan to do all I can to help change the mindsets of young people so they’ll have some hope and realize they can achieve greatness … I don’t sugarcoat things and tell them it’s always going to be easy, and my story is certainly a testimony to that, but it’s important for me to try to give them hope and help them.”