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The Next Chapter: Pro Football Hall of Famer Darrell Green on how the game of life is played off the field

His mentoring program is ‘sobering work, but it’s an exciting work because it works’

At the 1983 NFL draft, a young cornerback out of Texas A&M, Kingsville found himself the last player selected in the first round, heading to the Washington Redskins.

It was the beginning of Darrell Green’s 20-year NFL career, which included two Super Bowl championships with the Redskins and recognition as one of the greatest cornerbacks in football history.

After retiring from football in 2002, Green dedicated his time to mentoring youth.

“It’s been a privilege to be on this journey,” Green said. “From the time I got in the league I was involved with youth around primarily this area [Washington, D.C.] and my learning centers in other parts of the country.”

In 2015 he partnered with health care provider Centene Corp., and he now leads Strong Youth Strong Communities (SYSC), a nationwide initiative that hosts free sessions with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to equip youths with life skills to promote positive thinking and sound judgment.

Centene’s vice president of corporate community relations, Joyce Larkin, says the most rewarding part of the program is to see kids opening up, talking about their issues and leaving feeling better about themselves.

“We are in our fourth year of working with Darrell, the creator of our Strong Youth Strong Communities initiative, and we are in our second year of partnering with the Pro Football Hall of Fame as their official youth wellness partner,” Larkin said. “We could not be more pleased with both partnerships and our combined efforts.”

The project is focused on more than a dozen cities and communities in the United States with declining graduation rates, high levels of poverty, homelessness, increasing suicide rates and limited access to educational resources.

According to Green, Centene allows SYSC to expand its approach of helping young people stay healthy.

“We show up with our gold jackets, Super Bowl rings, Hall of Fame rings, and numerous stories and videos,” Greene said. “That gets us in the door in some levels. … Our whole goal is just do everything we can to allow them to absorb all that we have out of us.”

“Oftentimes, the teachers are trying hard, the parents are trying hard, but the kids just need a little bit more encouragement,” Larkin said. “So it’s been our privilege to go into a community, use the gold jackets with their message of ‘The game of life gets played off of the field.’ ”

Green uses his life experiences to relate to youths who attend the sessions. He was bullied as a child, and his brother died of a drug overdose. After his parents got divorced he had a hard time dealing with the transition, and he became a father before he was married. His main message to children is to understand they have the opportunity to establish a foundation for their lives.

“I get excited when I think about this,” Green said. “And I make no apologies. I’m not a young cornerback today. I’m a dad and grandpa today. And I’m proud of that. I’m proud to be able to be relevant to this generation. I’m proud to be able to be received and bring value to the next generation and be counted, be counted in the number of those who are making a positive impact.”

Green picks up stories along the way, and it helps him stay motivated. During one event, he recalled an encounter with a young girl in Los Angeles who was in tears over disappointing her mother.

“During the breakout session she was crying. I’d talked about the importance and the value, the importance of your parents,” Green said. “We spoke that day to what we presented and gave her the ability to see the value in her mother. It was incredible just to spend time with that young lady, and I can give you tons of other stories. It reaches these young people. These kids have the ability to overcome. They have the ability to change. They have the ability to achieve. And they have the ability to forgive and to love, and to serve.”

Later this year, Green and the agency plan to launch a web portal.

“As we travel this country, we want to make sure we can continue to keep a connection to these youths,” Green said. “We’ve got over 10 million people that we’re serving that we have access to support. That’s a lot of work. It’s a sobering work, but it’s an exciting work because it works. We’ve seen a lot of great success in what we’re doing with our kids. And we’re kinda like the old saying, ‘We’re full, but yet, we remain hungry.’ We always are excited to celebrate, but we remain hungry, Joyce and I. We’re also pushing, pushing and pushing.”

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.