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Rookies are getting an education, beyond football

Jaycee Horn

CHARLOTTE — For most of the Panthers players, their short summer break started a week ago. 

But the rookies have been putting in overtime, making sure they're ready for the coming season and beyond.

After the conclusion of minicamp last week, the group of 19 first-year players still had another week to finish up their rookie development program, which covers everything from financial education, to media training, to the history of the franchise, and much more. 

Headed up by player engagement manager Jaiquawn Jarrett and assistant Gus Felder, the program was designed to ease the transition into the league for guys who have a lot coming at them at once.

Every new player is drinking from a firehose to learn a new playbook, but football's just a part of what they're asked to absorb in a hurry. They've all moved to a new city. Some, whose jobs are a little more secure (such as first-rounder Jaycee Horn), are finding places to live. They're all adjusting to a number of realities of life after college. Jarrett also makes sure each one of them is thinking about an exit strategy, because even the most successful among them won't play football forever.

"The number one goal is to serve, equip, and give them the resources to be as successful, as quickly as possible with their transition to the NFL — and out of the NFL," Jarrett said this week. "So that's our main emphasis, making sure we educate them on what the NFL is about, what life will become now that you're in the NFL, and the challenges you may face.

"You're not going through it alone. You won't be the first and you won't be the last. So we just try to make sure to get them all the resources possible, so that when something comes up, they're able to get it done."

New York Jets free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (37) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Jets won the game 20-13. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

In many ways, it's a crash course in life as an adult in a new place. But the program also functions as a fraternity of sorts, giving players from every corner of the country a chance to gather in one place, and know they're supported. 

"The biggest takeaway for me is just the realization that we have all this help available to us if we need it," sixth-round long snapper Thomas Fletcher said. "As rookies, we're all new here in the organization, so realizing that all these resources are in place for us is amazing, especially the stuff beyond football."

Jarrett has personal experience with how eye-opening it can be to walk into this situation.

A second-round pick of the Eagles in 2011 out of Temple, he played five years in the league (finishing his career with the Jets). And when he remembers his first season, he laughed and admitted he was caught off guard by the new complexity of tax planning.

"Little things, like the fact you're getting taxed in every city and state you play in," Jarrett recalled. "You have to be mindful, you're going to play in NY or Cali, and when those taxes hit you, they hit you hard."

He pointed out one of Felder's favorite teaching points on the topic, a reminder that just because people see big contract numbers for the high picks when a deal is signed, that financial security isn't something you can always assume.

"Gus does a great job with these guys, but he says it all the time, 'The number you see on the internet is not what you bring home.'"

Gus Felder

Handling their money is just one piece of the education the rookies have been getting, as Jarrett has brought in panels of veteran players to talk about their experiences, and made sure the new players have access to Dr. Joanne Perry for a sports psychology perspective. 

Football schemes and financial literacy are important, but they've also leaned into the basics of mindfulness and how to handle stress.

"It's your decision-making, your time management, being able to understand making the right choices," Jarrett said. "A lot the emphasis is simply that you are adults, grown men, and the choices you make can cost you more the older you get."

Seventh-round defensive tackle Phil Hoskins needed a second when asked which part of the program had stuck with him most, because it had been so comprehensive. 

"I mean honestly, it's just that there's so much of it," Hoskins said. "The amount of information they've put in front of us is unbelievable.

"To think that last year's rookies weren't able to get this kind of stuff in-person makes you realize you're privileged to have access to all this."

Now, the rookies get a chance to take a quick break, a month to catch their breath before training camp begins, and their quest to make the team begins in earnest. And when they get back, they'll have the benefit of lessons learned, and the knowledge that they have a support system in place.

Check out select photos of some of the Panthers new rookie players, including Jaycee Horn, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brady Christensen, Tommy Tremble, Chuba Hubbard, Keith Taylor and Shi Smith.

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