Here's what former Longhorns All-American and two-time Super Bowl winner Dan Neil would look for in a recruit

This season, here on HornsDigest.com former Texas All-American offensive lineman DAN NEIL, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos (1997 & 1998) who opened holes for 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis, is breaking down film of Texas games and telling you what he sees.

Post your questions for Dan in this thread, and he will answer them. Catch Dan on “Upon Further Review” on the Longhorn Network on Mondays at 6 pm CT. 

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To eventually make a point, I'm going to share an excerpt from a biography with you about the early setbacks of a leader everyone knows.

When he was 7 years old, his family was forced out of their home because of a legal technicality.

He had to work to help support them. At age 9, while still a backward, shy little boy, his mother died. 

At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education was not good enough. 

At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. Three years later his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. 

At 28, after developing a romantic relationship with a young lady for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. An earlier youthful love he shared with a lovely girl ended in heartache at her death. 

At 37, on his third try, he was finally elected to Congress. Two years later he ran again and failed to be re-elected. I should add it was about this time he had what some today would call a nervous breakdown. 

At 41, adding additional heartache to an already unhappy marriage, his 4-year-old son died. 

The next year he was rejected for Land Officer. 

At 45, he ran for the Senate again and lost.

Two years later, he was defeated for nomination for vice president. 

At 49, he ran for the Senate again . . . and lost again. 

Add to this an endless barrage of criticism, misunderstanding, ugly and false rumors, and deep periods of depression, and you realize it's no wonder he was snubbed by his peers and despised by multitudes, hardly the envy of his day.

At 51, however, he was elected President of the United States . . . but his second term in office was cut short by his assassination. 

-- The Life of Abraham Lincoln

 

We know about Abraham Lincoln’s time as president. But many do not know his story.  

Politics aside, I have always been an admirer of the man.  Here is a guy who never quit, believed in what he was doing, worked for that belief and led this nation out of one of its most difficult times.  

I have often wondered about the man’s makeup.  What made Abraham Lincoln tick?  What made Abraham Lincoln tick is the same things that you want in a football player.  

When I hear people talk about recruiting a lot of what I hear is about size, speed and strength.  To me those are the last things I am looking at.

I am looking at character first.  I am a firm believer that character is more important than talent.  Give me 22 guys with character, and you can win a lot of football games.  Give me 22 guys with character and talent, and you can win a championship.  

When I am in charge of the world here are the things I am going to look at before I offer a scholarship or draft a guy.

BELIEVE:

“You are big enough if you are good enough.” -- Woody Hayes, Ohio State head coach

There is a difference between confidence and cocky.  

Confidence is when you believe in yourself and understand that your success was not a one-man job.  Others helped contribute to where you are and they deserve as much or more credit than you do for where you are in life.  

Cocky is when you believe it was a one-man job.  Cocky is the exclusion of humility.  You need confidence and there is a simple way to get it.

A confident calm comes from preparation.  You believe when you are prepared for what you are doing.  Confidence can be a fragile thing.  We have all seen great players fall apart because they lose that belief in themselves.  This is also part of teamwork.  We sometimes need to hear from our teammates that we are doing a good job.  

Teammates support and encourage each other.  You go out and compete each play at practice to help make each other better.  You also encourage each other to get better.

We all get knocked down and are told at times what we can’t do.  When this happens we need to get back up and show what we can do.

Never doubt yourself.

WORK ETHIC:

“God gives talent, size and speed.  But, a guy can control how hard he tries.” -- Darrell Royal, Texas coach

This is probably the easiest trait to see.  You go to one practice and you can see what kind of work ethic a guy has.  It is what an individual does when no one is looking that will tell you his character.

You can’t decide on game day in front of 80,000 fans to start working hard.  This is something you either do or don’t do.

I’m sure most of us have worked with that guy that never takes a day off.  It is not a look at me thing where they park in the first parking spot so everyone knows they were the first one there that day.  

They come into work ready to go and work to be great every day.  The great ones let their actions speak and don’t have to tell you how hard they work.  

The one I want is the one that has the admiration of co-workers.  They work to better the team first and know the results will only make them better individually.

Work ethic is a learned behavior and comes to those who are willing to learn.

COMPETE:

“Who dares – wins.” -- British SAS Insignia 

Compete or quit?  

This is what your choices are, and it is totally up to you.  I don’t think that I was so much a competitor; I think it was a case where I was just too stubborn to quit.

I have come to believe that this maybe the single most important characteristic.   Who is willing to compete every play.  This is not a sometime kind of thing, it is an all the time kind of the thing.  

It is not who wins but who competes.  If you don’t compete you will not win.  

A football play is made up of 11 competitions going on simultaneously and one is not more important than the other.  You need 11 guys that will compete.  I don’t care how good you are; some day you are going to meet someone bigger and badder than you.  

What are you going to do?  Quit or compete?  

When I was in high school, our center was a skinny guy who was a tough sucker.  He was on the B Team as a freshman and worked until he was the starting center as a senior.  

I had great admiration and respect for him.  He never got discouraged and would fight his ass off every play.  Whenever we played, you could count on two things.  He would fight to the end every play and would never give up.  

Loved playing with that guy and thought about him later in my career when I ran into that bigger and badder guy on the field.

Greatness comes to those who dare to compete!

TEAMWORK:

“There are two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take credit.  Try to be in the first group because there is less competition there.” -- Indira Gandhi

I grew up dreaming of being Earl Campbell.  I was from Houston and Earl was the guy.  Since I was not a small kid, I envisioned myself running the ball like Earl and scoring touchdowns.  

When my dad finally let me play tackle football I went out for running back.  Coach came up to me and said, “You’re in the wrong line.   This is for the running backs and you are the center.”  

I had my hand in the dirt ever since.  

I just wanted to play football, and if my job was to be the center, then I was going to do my job the best I could.  I eventually learned to love offensive line and would not have wanted to play any other position.  

There are 11 guys on the field at a time and you are as strong as the weakest link.  

All 11 guys have to work together and rely on each other.  No one’s job is more important than a teammate’s job.  

All should be equal in the eyes of each other.  This is what being a team is about, putting in the preparation to be at your best each day for your teammates.  

What was former Rockets’ coach Rudy Tomjanovich talking about when referring to “the heart of a champion?”

He was saying you must have a heart where you care more about the guy next to you than you do yourself.  Total selflessness!  You can’t win without each other.

I have never understood why some guys get mad about not getting the ball more or not getting a chance to score more touchdowns.  Who cares who scores!  I only care that we scored.  

Give me 22 guys who want to be in the group that works and not the group that takes credit.

The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. 

ATTITUDE:

“Only angry people win football games.” – Darrell Royal

Gotta love Coach Royal’s ability to sum things up in a few words.  This does not mean you need to be angry all the time.  

Schizophrenia is a good thing in a football player.  You can be angry between the lines and a gentleman off the field.  But when you are between the lines, play angry. 

Attitude comes from a desire to be great.  You want to be the best you can be and the guy you are competing with is standing in the way of greatness.  

This drives a man to play with passion.  Having clear concise goals helps with attitude.  Knowing what you want to achieve helps drive us.  If you know where you want to be you know what to do to get there.  

What I love about football is it is a passionate game.  You are been driven and pushed to see how far you can take yourself.  You are not in a position of comfort during a game.   You are being challenged physically, mentally and emotionally for 60 minutes.  This should make you angry.  

Play with passion and play smart.

LEADERSHIP:

“I am not afraid of an army of lions lead by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep lead by a lion.” -- Alexander the Great

This may be one the most talked about trait.  I travel all the time and am always amazed at the number of books on this topic.  

There is certainly a lot you could say about leadership and really should be its own article.  I wanted to touch on it here because I think it is important.  

We have all worked with and for good leaders and awful leaders.  What is it that makes me want to follow someone?  

First of all, they need the traits discussed above.  They also need to know the words “follow me.”  People follow those they see taking action.  You don’t follow someone who tells you what to do.  

Saying: “Do what I say - not what I do” - does not work here.  

They have to truly care about you.  You can’t fake this.  We all had that mentor in our chosen careers that took the time to help us and cared about our success.  You would follow that guy anywhere.   

We all need help and guidance at times.  A leader is willing to provide both. 

Ability to make tough decisions based on the information in front of them at that time.  

Mike Shanahan, my coach with the Denver Broncos, always said you need to follow your gut.  

Basically, you need a moral compass and do the right thing.  People know right from wrong and want to associate with those that do the right thing.   

I have always felt the great leaders are willing to lead by example.  You are following them because they are always one step ahead!

Leaders understand they can’t do it alone and need help from their teammates.  They help make everyone around them better.

TALENT:

This is the one thing I don’t care about.  I think this is irrelevant if you don’t have the rest.  

Talent helps But I would rather have a teammate with the other characteristics.  

Darrell Royal said it above: Talent is out of our control.  

I look at what we can control.

There are a lot of guys in NFL Hall of Fame.  Great players who you should admire.  

But some of the players who really stay in our minds are not in the Hall of Fame. They are guys who did more with less.  

Freddie Steinmark at Texas … Chuckie Mullins at Ole Miss …

They might not have been the biggest or the fastest, but they ended up being incredibly productive football players because they were great men who inspired their teammates, their coaches and their entire university.

These are the guys they build memorials for. Talent does not define us. Our contributions to others do.

 

I’m not sure if I will ever get that chance to be in charge of the world, but when I do I will be ready!!!!!!


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