Students at the Northwest Arkansas Passing Academy 2013, ranging from ages 7 to 18, had the opportunity to hear from Michael Irvin Saturday at Woodland Junior High School in Fayetteville.
The Hall of Fame wide receiver stepped onto the practice field wearing a suit and tie and was scheduled to only speak following the last session on Saturday and then coach on Sunday. Irvin said he could not contain himself once he saw the kids playing the game he loves, however.
"I'm a football player, man," Irvin said. "When I see guys on the field, doing what we do, I have to jump in and join them. Of course, I started stripping down, right away, taking off that suit jacket and tie and wanting to get out on the field and coach. Which is so funny because it's just what I talked to the kids about -- about squeezing the moment and understanding how precious time is.
"It's our most precious resource, because it's the only thing in the world that we can't go make more of. So I always want to be out there around kids and being able to impart some of the things that I was taught on the field and how the lessons don't just stay on the field."
The main lesson Irvin taught in his time speaking to the kids was teamwork. Irvin stressed that while LeBron James can pull down a rebound, drive down the floor and slam dunk a basketball by himself, Tiger Woods can hit a put for the win on the 18th hole and Barry Bonds used to hit home runs without the help of any teammates, football takes all 11 men doing their job and helping out one another to try to beat the other 11 men doing the same.
"I really love all sports," Irvin said. "But there is no sport that teaches you to work together and work with others like this sport does. There is no sport that teaches you that more than football."
In addition to learning the value of teamwork, Irvin said the game of football can accomplish much more in a person's life.
"We look at why kids do some things like join gangs and that kind of stuff, it's because they don't have a sense of belonging. And we want to make sure that we understand the importance of those things and what this game gives and how these principles that are taught here are very important to success in life and raising young men to become real men and real mighty men of valor, as the Bible calls them," Irvin said. "Men that do as they need and are supposed to do. And that's why I think this is the greatest game in the world."
Although "The Playmaker" won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, made five Pro Bowl appearances and was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame, Irvin said it is his life experiences away from the gridiron that he hopes to share the most.
"If you know anything about my journey in life, it has not always been a straight and narrow journey," Irvin said. "And I think all men, as we go through life, we try to find rhyme and reason for some of the bad decisions we have made and what gives it substance is to say ‘Okay, all right God. If I went through those things so I can take in the lessons and pour them out to these kids to make sure they don't go through those things, it gives me some understanding.'
"So I can remove the regret from the bad decisions and move forward. Let me take the things I learned from those hard times to make sure these kids don't go through those same hard times. I will always show up for kids in that manner. It gives a peace to me and it gives me a sense of understanding to all of the mess I have gone through that if I can take it and make sure they don't go through it, then there is victory."
Although Irvin was not scheduled to coach Saturday, the coaching staff at the Passing Academy featured several names Arkansans should recognize.
Former Arkansas quarterback Alex Mortensen orchestrated the event and was joined by other former quarterbacks like UA and UCA quarterback and Fayetteville quarterbacks coach Zak Clark, former Arkansas quarterback and current Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, and other former Arkansas quarterbacks, including Casey Dick, Clint Stoerner, Jared McBride and Joe Ferguson. Abilene High School coach Steve Warren and former Arkansas guard and New Mexico Highlands offensive coordinator Stephen Parker also coached at the event.
"Having big names helps with marketability, but more so, it helps me breathe easy because these guys have names for a reason," Mortensen said of his fellow coaches. "They're all really, really great coaches. So, I can trust that the kids, when I'm not looking and I'm not involved in a drill, they're going to be coached to the highest level."
While Mortensen showed his gratitude for the other coaches, Irvin said seeing him work with the kids was particularly meaningful for him.
"When (ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen) calls me, and Alex, you know, I worked with Mort for years over at ESPN and during the time, Alex was playing," Irvin said. "It's so amazing that Alex was playing and we would go back and forth, talking about Alex. And now, when Mort calls I say ‘Are you serious? I'm coming. Absolutely. Right away I'll come. And as I said, I'm in the midst of a 13-city tour, speaking to entrepreneurs about coaching and teamwork and everything. But when Mort called, I said ‘I'll break the schedule.' Because it was another opportunity to come in and speak to young men.
"And also, look at Alex. He was a young man and now he is out there as the man, coaching young men. So you want to get an opportunity to see that blessing and see how he has grown. He'll pour into a young man out here and one day he will look at the kid and say ‘Wow.' The Bible calls these things generational blessings. You pour into somebody and then they pour into somebody. It's great to be here and see it."
Irvin teaches teamwork at NWA Passing Academy
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