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It's A Gray Area: Hall of Famers give back to younger players

July 16, 2011|By James P. Gray

Thanks to Ron Yary, a former Outland Trophy winner at USC and Minnesota Vikings all-pro tackle, and Dr. Casey Cooper, a noted sports psychologist, the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame have established the Legacy Leadership Program here in Orange County. Through this program, Hall of Fame members mentor and establish a one-on-one relationship with deserving high school football players, which lasts a year or more.

The program goals are to help motivate and inspire high school players to make better choices on the field and, even more importantly, in the classroom and the community.

But this isn't just a feel-good program. Each Hall of Famer participates in a two-hour training session that provides insights for their mentoring. Then they sign a participation agreement whereby they promise to uphold the program's policies and guidelines.

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Each Orange County high school can nominate one football player. The applicants and their parents will go through a brief orientation that spells out the benefits, guidelines and responsibilities required by their participation. Among other things, confidentiality and child abuse issues are discussed. Unfortunately, only two applicants can be selected, so the competition is fierce.

To qualify as a mentee, the football player must be entering his senior season, be a leader on his team, be highly regarded by his coach and have the ability to play football in college or professionally. The candidate may need some special focus and guidance to improve his classroom performance, and may also face adversity at home.

It is more than an honor to be nominated, because during the selection process applicants can attend several sessions dealing with athletic life skills training. Last year two of the presenters were former UCLA star running back from Tustin, DeShaun Foster, and former Long Beach Poly and USC linebacker and Super Bowl great Willie McGinist. Among other things, the presentations emphasized the importance of an education, and how it affects both their football careers and also their lives after their playing days are over.

The program coordinator monitors the mentees and Hall of Famers through personal contact and phone calls to ensure that both sides are satisfied.

Last year the committee selected Victor Silva of Godinez High School and Trey Madden from Mission Viejo High School as mentees. Victor has been mentored by Yary, and Trey's mentor has been Michael Haynes of the Patriots and Raiders.

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