Monday, September 21, 2009

Gilman grad Opara shows studies help sports career

September 18, 2009

By Katherine Dunn

Something student-athletes hear over and over again during their high school years is the importance of succeeding in the classroom as well as on the field. After a while, that advice can go in one ear and out the other.

One person who proves the truth in that advice is Chisom Opara, a Gilman graduate who is now a scout for the Cleveland Browns. The subject of today’s “Alumni Report,” Opara knows he wouldn’t still be in football if he had not succeeded in class as well as on the field.

He wanted to make it as an NFL player, but he didn’t, so he found a way to fall back on a career that kept him very close to the sport he loved.

Like Opara, most high school athletes will not play professional sports. There just aren’t enough roster spots in the NFL, the NBA, the WNBA and other pro leagues. But you don’t have to play to have a career in those sports.

Just look at how many people surround an NFL team – everyone from coaches to scouts to athletic trainers to public relations specialists. It takes a village to keep a professional team running. At the college level, there are lots of supporting positions, too, and you can see how many people work to make sure your high school and club teams run smoothly.

There are other careers in sports, too, such as sports management and sportswriting or broadcasting. Do you have any idea how many people it takes to pull of Sunday Night Football?

Opara’s 3.5 grade-point average at Gilman sure helped draw the interest of college coaches from such academic powerhouses as Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Duke and Virginia. He chose Princeton and earned his degree in politics.

“The percentage of people who make it to the professional ranks if you really look at it across all sports, it’s very small,” Opara said. “It is an uphill battle. Certainly, if you’re good enough and you try hard enough, there’s a chance, but not everybody’s going to make it. But there are other opportunities to stay around the game, whether it’s coaching, scouting, being a trainer, equipment manager, working in operations. There’s a lot of opportunity up there. Even when I was coming up, I didn’t realize there were people who scouted me when I was in high school. That aspect of it didn’t really dawn on me until college, and I started to become a bit more into it.”

Opara said he thought about other careers, such as investment banking, or teaching and coaching high school football, but when his chance came in the front office, he jumped on it. Today, he can’t thank Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Browns general manager Phil Savage enough for giving him the chance to stay in the NFL, but Opara made a lot of that happen himself. He got the grades in high school to get to Princeton, and he got his degree even though he went back for it after a tryout with the Ravens in 2003.

Without the ability to communicate well, he wouldn’t be any better at his job than I would be at mine.

“It kind of underscores the importance of combining the athletic part with the academic part,” Opara said, “because in my job, your ability to write and communicate is very important. If you’re just a good football player and you can’t write and communicate, you can’t express your opinions, then jobs like scouting and jobs like coaching are not going to be as open to you. That just underscores the balance of succeeding athletically and also pushing yourself academically.”

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