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Life after the NFL for Super Bowl champ Dominic Rhodes means giving back to youth

His nonprofit, Rhodes to Success, focuses on academic success and scholarships

Thirty-eight-year-old retired running back Dominic Rhodes is not far removed from the game of football. His memories are vivid. His injuries still cause him pain. But he learned a lesson of sustainability and took that energy to focus on life after football.

“I was a rookie and I didn’t know if I was going to be on the team or not, and we played against Cincinnati,” Rhodes recalled. “The week before, I had got a concussion, and they let me start against Cincinnati, and I had a really good game. I almost ran a kickoff back, had a touchdown running the football, did some really good things. My coach said, when they had the cuts, he said, ‘You don’t even worry about your phone ringing. You’re good.’ That was my time. I was so dumb, I just thought that, when you get to the NFL, like everything else, you’re on the team. I knew I could play football. I didn’t know they cut you if you weren’t good enough to make it. I like to say that sometimes me not thinking was a good thing in the beginning.”

Rhodes signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2001. On Feb. 4, 2007, in Super Bowl XLI, Rhodes helped seal a 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears. He scored a 1-yard touchdown and rushed for more than 100 yards to help the Colts win. He set an NFL record for rushing yards by an undrafted rookie that season with 1,104. After that season, he became a free agent and signed with the Oakland Raiders. He was released shortly after the team drafted running back Darren McFadden fourth overall in the 2008 NFL draft.

That lesson fueled his love and adoration for the game and has allowed him to pursue his post-playing passion — promoting academic success and athletic achievement through a nonprofit organization.

Rhodes to Success started [in] about 2008. I wanted to somehow reach the community that I grew up in — the kids that didn’t have very much. It started with me really,” Rhodes said of the nonprofit’s inception. “When I was younger, I couldn’t afford name-brand tennis shoes like I wanted, so I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can just give tennis shoes out, and I’ll have my nonprofit to give that out.’ I started that way at first, just started with Champs, working with them.”

Life after football for Rhodes includes family, Rhodes to Success and helping others. According to the organization’s website, Rhodes to Success Inc. “provides extracurricular activities for youth, challenges youth in the areas of academics and/or athletics, through camps, classroom instruction, or service projects, and provides financial assistance to youth to further their education or athletic careers.”

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Now the organization has grown to host football camps, turkey giveaways during the holidays, and provides $12,000 in scholarships, ranging from architecture to education. Rhodes’ primary focus is reaching youths through community programs and educational outreach.

“That’s kind of what Rhodes to Success is, just reaching the community and trying to help these kids reach higher and higher goals and become great.”

Rhodes said the most rewarding part for him is mentoring at Adams Middle School in Sound Grand Prairie, Texas.

“We started out with one of the lowest numbers [grades],” he said. After being mentored, the children participating in the program saw their grades improve.

“Just seeing these young men grow up and going from sagging their pants to wearing a belt and a tie now. When they come to our meetings, people see them and are taking them seriously and not as a joke, because in the end it’s about your character and the choices that you make.”

Rhodes said his organization has touched more than 10,000 children. It also provides scholarship dollars to the Grand Prairie Chamber of Commerce and the Career Technical Institute.

“We gave out $10,000 of scholarships to these kids going to schools all over Texas and the country,” Rhodes said. “That’s something that we pride ourselves on, that we really want to start doing more. Right now, we’ve just been giving out scholarships through other people and just getting the funding. But we want to get to the point where we can do our own scholarships and help as many kids around this country as we can.”

Rhodes was raised in Mark, Texas, and said he had a rough upbringing.

“If you look at it on a map, you’ll barely see it, and if you drive through it, you’ll barely know that you went through it. It’s one stoplight, a bunch of dirt roads and potholes. It’s a rough upbringing there. I’m from there. I grew up in Abilene, Texas. It’s a country town in West Texas.”

He grew up with his mother, two brothers and a sister.

“My mom worked two jobs. She walked to work. We didn’t have a car, we didn’t have cable and we just got by on her doing the best she could. She worked at pizza places, so we ate pizza a lot, and stuff like that.”

Running back Dominic Rhodes #33 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates with head coach Tony Dungy after their 29-17 win against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Running back Dominic Rhodes #33 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates with head coach Tony Dungy after their 29-17 win against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Despite his humble beginnings, Rhodes displayed a hunger and passion for football. He said he knew one day it would pay off.

“Luckily, I was blessed enough to be able to do that,” he said. “I say that my rough upbringing and the way that I had to come up and kind of just deal with what I had, it put a chip on my shoulder, and it helped me to just go with the flow. I know that you’ve got to work hard for what you want, and if you want to be where you want to be at, then the sky is the limit and there’s always options, but it’s just all about the choices that you make to get there.”

Rhodes said the hardest part of his journey is dealing with himself.

“Because I’ve had every opportunity to do things that I wanted to do. A lot of times, the choices that I have made have either made me or broke me. I think that goes with everybody in life, no matter who you are, what you’re doing, how big or small it is. It’s mostly self-inflicted, when you make things hard on yourself. I think that’s what it’s been. My choices that I’ve made has been the roughest part of my journey, because I can see where things went, they say that fork in the road. That fork in the road is always a choice. That’s been the roughest part of the journey for me, just overall making the best choices.”

Rhodes said that life after football has been busy. The time has allowed him to come out of his shell, where football only mattered. Now he thinks outside the box.

“I’ve really had to be a thinking man, and I’m really happy about that, that I’m growing like I am. So life after football has been great. I’m doing my nonprofit, and I’ve got my kids’ help with that. I’ve got my family to help me with that. It’s been positive, because I am able to do that. I’m blessed enough to be able to give back like I want to.

“I also have an opportunity to do real estate and flip houses with my family [Texas Tycoon LLC], because that’s what my family does. It’s been good. Life has been good. I get to watch my kids play sports now, something I wasn’t able to do. I get to be at all their events. I didn’t miss one of my son’s football games this year. Usually, it’s me having football games. I also have my oldest son. He’s 21. He’s in college, as well. I have my daughter, who is 18, who is getting ready go to college. Then I have a 13-year-old son and a 11-year-old daughter, as well.”

Rhodes considers his 22-year-old niece his oldest daughter after raising her since her preteen years. DeVante, his oldest son, is a cornerback at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

“My advice for him is just take advantage of every opportunity you have, work as hard as you can every day, because it’s so short-lived and so many of us would love to come back. The deal is everybody wishes they can do it again the right way. So I tell him every day just work as hard as you can and try to be as great as you can and let the cards fall where they may, and we’ll see what happens one day.”

Rhodes still enjoys watching the football. His favorite athlete right now is New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and for that reason he is pulling for the Patriots to win this year’s Super Bowl over the Atlanta Falcons.

Before his NFL career, he looked up to former Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos running back Tony Dorsett.

“That’s my guy — Tony Dorsett. That’s somebody who I would really, really love to meet. I never even got to meet this man, but that’s why I wore his number and I wore it all my life. Growing up in Texas, football is king, and I was part of the whole deal, growing up and still now. The Cowboys were the biggest thing going when I was growing up. Then you see flashes of Tony Dorsett running up and down the field, scoring touchdowns. I don’t care what it was. It was just the flashiness of the Cowboys, being here in that moment, America’s team, and seeing that guy run up and down the field with them numbers, that 33 on. I couldn’t get enough of it.”

Following a second stint with the Colts, Rhodes went on to play for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League (UFL). He found himself back with the Colts a third time and later returned to the UFL with the Virginia Destroyers. He finished his career with Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes.

Rhodes is still fulfilling his dreams because he’s investing in the lives of children and their aspirations.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.