On Sunday, September 9, Will Allen and the Pittsburgh Steelers will open their season in Denver against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. I caught up with Allen recently, and here is what he had to say about the Steelers' defense, his charity work, and former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.
How long do you plan to keep playing football?
Allen: I'm going to play as long as the good Lord allows me to. I'm still feeling good. I'm still training at a very high level. As long as I can feel good mentally and feel good physically, and I'm in a good place spiritually, I'm going to play as long as I can. I don't like to limit myself, so maybe it's another six years or maybe it's another four years. I don't know. Every year, I just take it one day at a time and give it my best effort.
What are planning on doing when your career is over?
Allen: I kinda want to go back to school and get my MBA in research and development or economic development. I want to be an entrepreneur, but I want to be educated first. I just don't want to jump into business without knowing what to do and just being competent in it. A lot of athletes start a business, and then they trust other people to run the business. They know nothing about it, and that's failure waiting to happen. So I think in everything that you do, you have to have some kind of education - some knowledge of what's going on. That's kinda what I want to do. There are other auxiliary things that I'd like to do: maybe TV, a book, and continue my philanthropic endeavors, but other than that - play some golf.
What can you tell me about the Will Allen Foundation? What is your main goal with it?
Allen: The main goal is to help high school kids become more proactive, to provide them with tools and resources, to empower them to establish a legacy early on, to establish some good boundaries, some good rules of living ... It's a thought process that our culture sometimes doesn't provide. I just believe that if I have the tools and resources to empower young people, then it's my responsibility to do it in a way that's beneficial. So I'm just trying to give them some resources that maybe I didn't have growing up, and that also they can use for today's young adulthood.
How are you accomplishing this goal with the foundation?
Allen: It's an after-school program. We do it through high schools, so it's in North Hills School in Pittsburgh, and in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, at Wayne High School. We've been doing that for a few years now, and it's been going pretty well. We also do a program called "The Big Play," and we partner with Astor and Black, a clothing company. What we do with them is that we select individuals - it can be anybody from servicemen to young men in high school or graduating from college preparing for interviews - you know, anybody in need of a suit.
What we have typically done is use sports figures' or professional athletes' suits that they have recycled or don't have a need for. We've tailored those suits for the individual selected. But what we're going to do now is select people. We're going to have a drawing, and we're going to get the suits tailored for them through Astor and Black. And we're going to do a nationwide campaign. So this should be pretty good. I'm all about empowering people and helping them reach their goals in life, and everybody needs a good suit. It's a need, and I didn't want to see money or a person's clothing go to waste.
How do you choose who gets the suits?
Allen: Last January was the first time that we did this, and we selected two young brothers in Columbus [Ohio]. It was through a hospital. It was sickle-cell anemia, and they would be getting blood work every week. It was very tough for the parents; it was very tough for them. And they'd never had a suit in their lives. So that's kinda what we do: we figure out a need, and we use our resources to move forward from there.
Like I said, we're going to do a nationwide campaign through my website, the Will Allen Foundation website, and we're going to partner with Astor and Black. We're going to select people by looking through the information they provide and why they think they need a new suit. And we're going to pick two people, and they're going to get a custom-made, tailored suit.
What are you doing in the high schools to make a difference?
Allen: I wanted to get to kids early. I wanted to work with young people because they're so impressionable. There's so much going on in the world now with media and television - they're exposed to so much more. And I wanted to go in and broaden their exposure to something that can be a little more beneficial, a little more positive. I can really make them think outside the box for the next four to eight years of their lives.
The program is called Quest for Real Life Success, and what we do is bring in business professionals from the community and have them share their expertise. We talk about financial literacy, ACT/SAT preparations, and business etiquette. We talk about problem-solving in adverse situations. We talk about sexual health and decision-making. We talk about taxes, loans, credit - I mean, everything you can think of. We kinda introduce it to them and help them understand the process of it all four years of high school. So it's a very comprehensive program. Then the kids have to do community service. So once a month, the kids do a community service project. And it helps them to understand what it means to give back; it helps them to understand how to live a more holistic life.
You completed your degree at Ohio State instead of leaving school early. How does that help you speak to kids about their future?
Allen: It helps me because I stayed the course. I went through all the ups and downs. I went through a ton of adversity, and I stayed the course. There's something to be said about people who stay the course and are diligent. They are responsible for their work. A lot of times, people want an easy fix or instant gratification. They want stuff fast. A lot of people don't want to earn their keep. That's something that I talk to kids about: just because it looks this way from day one, day 1,257 won't look the same. You have the ability to change that, to encourage what the next 1,000 days will be. It might seem like forever, but you have to take advantage of the day. That's what we talk about: take advantage of the day. Being in the moment. Kids don't understand that. The better you understand that, the better you take advantage of your opportunities.
Derek Ciapala has been an NFL fan since childhood. Whether it be a holiday, a sleepy Sunday, or traumatic Monday, there is always football on in his household. You can follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @dciapala.
Source: Personal Interview
- Sports & Recreation