A few years back, Falcons players Kevin Cone and Stephen Nicholas walked into Kevin Winston’s office in Flowery Branch.
They wanted to make plans for the post-NFL careers.
Winston, the team’s senior director of player affairs, coordinates the team’s Falcons University program, which encourages players to consider life after football.
Cone, who wanted to get into collegiate sports, works in the athletic department at Georgia Tech, and Nicholas, who wanted to get into coaching, was named an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday after coaching three years at South Florida.
A group of 20 Falcons gathered at NCR’s world headquarters in Midtown for the latest round of classes with several chief executive officers and executives from their staffs to discuss careers in technology, franchising and real estate.
“We are giving guys a chance to have an unique experience and get immersed in different fields within the business world,” Winston said. “They picked a particular company, shadowed executives and were exposed to different departments within the company.”
Falcons owner Arthur Blank addressed the players. Fred Weir, president of Zaxbys’ Atlanta co-op, executives from NCR, Falcons president Rich McKay and Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury were some of the speakers.
“When we started putting this program together, it was the players who identified the three categories, which was franchising, technology and real estate,” Winston said. “They actually have interests in these fields and actually had skin in the game in developing this program.”
Cone and Nicholas are players the Falcons can point to who are off to smooth post-NFL career transitions.
“Kevin Cone is guy who came through Falcons U,” Winston said. “A guy who was a free-agent walk-on. A guy who finished his undergrad and master’s at Georgia Tech and now is in the football-operations department.”
Some of the Falcons on hand included Grady Jarrett, Brian Poole, Matt Bryant, Josh Harris, Matt Bosher, Andre Roberts, Wes Schweitzer, Ben Garland, Sean Weatherspoon, Nick Williams, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jack Crawford, Justin Hardy and Jamil Douglas.
Former Falcons U. student D.J. Shockley, who has transitioned nicely into a broadcasting career, was the emcee of the program.
“They always say the NFL means ‘Not For Long,’ “ Roberts said. “So, I kind of started thinking about it when I got to (Washington) D.C. (with the Redskins) in 2014. I was thinking about what I wanted to do after football. I always thought about the restaurant business and being able to serve my community.”
Roberts and business partner Duran Lawson are set to open their first Zaxby’s restaurant in Loudon, Va., this summer.
Roberts and Lawson were sitting around one day playing video games and became hungry. They really wanted some chicken from Zaxby’s, but there were no stores in the area.
“So, we decided to look into it,” Roberts said.
The process started in 2016, and most of the planning and acquisitions are complete.
“Why we wanted to go with Zaxby’s is what they represented and how they said their growth is going to be in the coming years,” said Roberts, who was attracted to the college-scholarship program that the company has for its employees. “I really liked the franchise model.”
Crawford, Jarrett and Weatherspoon toured CNN.
Bryant, Douglas, Poole and Williams shadowed executives from Harry Norman Realtors.
Dontari Poe and Wreh-Wilson were set to shadow NCR executives.
“I want to start now early in my career with how to build a life off the field and how to be a better businessman,” said Jarrett, who majored in business administration at Clemson. “It’s been great to be around these successful businessmen and businesses like NCR. We are meeting some of the CEOs and big influencers around the city.”
Jarrett sees it as being proactive.
“Football is not the end of the road,” he said. “It’s up to a lot of guys on whether they want to make that decision now to start preparing for life after football.”
Weatherspoon, 30, has played eight seasons in the NFL.
“It’s never too early to get ready,” Weatherspoon said.
He’s not sure, but journalism is a possibility for the well-spoken Weatherspoon.
“I can be on TV talking about certain things, news, sports and things like that,” Weatherspoon said. “I could be coaching and being a part of a team. We work well with other people. I’ll definitely be serving others, but I don’t know in what capacity. I want to hone in on that now. I also could be a successful businessman as well.”
Bryant is set to enter his 17th season in the NFL.
“Playing football is the best part-time job that you’ll ever have, but it doesn’t last forever,” Bryant said. “Some people are more fortunate than others. I’ve beyond blessed to be going on Year 17.”
Bryant sat in the front of the class next to Harris and Bosher, his special teammates.
“To come here and get this knowledge from CEOs and people who are actually very successful at what they do, you can tap into that and hope that it helps when football is over,” Bryant said.