“Go to Work.” The mantra repeated before each football offseason echoes throughout the Big Blue Nation, but what exactly does it mean? In this KSR summer series, we explore what the Kentucky football is doing everyday to prepare for the 2018 season. The series begins with a look at how Freddie Maggard has made Player Development Wednesday’s an important part of the program.
“Hello there, Nicholas.”
Freddie Maggard’s greeting is familiar, but the setting is not the same. Instead of entering the iHeart Radio station for another hour-long KSR podcast, on Wednesday I found Freddie in his new second-floor office at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility. It’s June, normally a month Freddie spends waist deep into Phil Steele, Athlon and other college football preview magazines.
“I’m not going to read any of them. Why should I? I care about the 100 players we have and one team. That’s Kentucky. I don’t care about anybody else’s team. I only care about the University of Kentucky.”
Walking past the college football preview magazines on the shelves at the Versailles Kroger is one of the many changes Maggard has made (and probably least significant) since he became UK’s Director of Player Development in April. In short, his job is to be the players’ coach off the field. Instead of wearing a whistle, he wears a tie, one that carries quite a bit of responsibility.
From the Top
Maggard’s position in the program is not new, but he is bringing more to the table, thanks to the vision of Kentucky’s head coach.
“I had this idea in my head for about the last year. It was a big need for us and our program to do more for our players,” Stoops said this week while hosting Kentucky Sports Radio. “We work unbelievably hard with nutrition, strength and conditioning, X’s and O’s, all phases up their life. There’s so many issues, we just need somebody there to work with them full-time to help them.”
Stoops’ verbal commitment to Player Development is substantiated by the resources the team has dedicated to the program. Every Wednesday this summer is exclusively dedicated to Player Development. In the mornings the team meets together. They finish the day with food and fun.
“He’s been wonderful in giving me the latitude to do my thing,” Maggard said. “That’s what we’ve been doing and that’s going well. There’s a lot of really good things going on here. There’s a lot of internships, jobs, graduations and we are just very appreciative of the Big Blue Nation.”
A short list of what’s happened in the first three Wednesdays of the summer:
- Crawfish Boil
- Brand Management Marketing Seminar
- Golf Simulator
- Financial Savings and Management Seminar
- Whiffle Ball and H-O-R-S-E
- NFLPA Rep Explained NFL Transition and Broke Down Salary Expenditures
- Steak Dinner
- Words of Wisdom from Jacob Tamme
- A Dunk Tank
“The emphasis on player development, it comes from the very top,” Freddie said. “I can’t tell you how passionate, how adamant Coach Stoops is about Player Development. It’s priority for him, because he wants to take care of his players. Not just for the three, four, five years they’re here. He wants them to succeed in that next 40 years. That’s why I’m here.”
Dunk Tank for the win ???? pic.twitter.com/YnnNtXURFJ
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) June 21, 2018
Three New Programs
At the heart of UK’s Player Development Program is the “4 for 40” motto. The goal is not to just make these people great football players for four years, but to make them successful for the next forty years, something Freddie has experienced first hand.
“I am the 4 for 40. I’m in that 40-year span of my post-football life. They understand that and I think it also helps to relate that I was in their chair 30 years ago. I was sitting right where they are 30 years ago. Time and the technology’s changed, but the only thing changes is the names on the back of the jerseys. Eighteen to 22 year-olds, that’s a tough transition. My job is to help serve them and help prepare them for the future.”
To prepare a person for the next chapter of their life, it requires a multi-faceted approach. Wednesdays take a collective angle, but each individual will follow a different path in life. That’s why each individual is formulating a “4 for 40” plan with Freddie, curtailed to their specific goals. In Mike Edwards’ plan, it involved an internship in the Kentucky State Police’s Crime Lab.
For those that missed out on the Player Development experience, Freddie Developed the “Audible” initiative. The average NFL career lasts three years. Once their time is complete and they need to find a career, Freddie is there to help with resume building, interview training and much more. In two short months five former players have found a job that fits their career path, namely Marcus McWilson, Alex Montgomery and, “The BBN’s going to be really surprised in a good way with JoJo Kemp. I can’t tell you what it is, but it’s going to be a good thing.”
The third facet of Freddie Maggard’s Player Development Program is “Huddle Up.” While the “4 for 40” program is all about improving the individual’s life, the goal of “Huddle Up” is to improve together to make the community a better place for all.
“Bringing everybody together, whether it be former players, the community. How do we define community? Not Fayette County, not Lexington, but the Big Blue Nation, which has no boundaries.”
“Huddle Up” encompasses quite a few things. In the morning Freddie might connect Logan Stenberg with the Special Olympics of Kentucky. In the afternoon, he could host a handful of former players to see the new football facility for the first time.
“This facility is less than two years old, but this facility is ours. Ours meaning, I don’t care if you played under Bear Bryant or you played under Mark Stoops. This is our facility and that’s the message I want to get out to the former players.” He added, “You can’t go forward until you recognize the past.”
Only One Hat
Freddie has created three new programs in just two months on the job, but in this job he only has to wear one hat. While working in his various media jobs, he had to play the role of former player, fan and objective media member on TV, radio and in print. Being pulled in different directions was tiresome.
“It was so hard for me. I was very protective of the football team when I was in the media. I tried to do the best I could to paint an accurate an objective picture, but that was just impossible for me to do because in my heart I bleed blue. I always have and I always will,” he said. “I’m glad I’m just now focused on one job and that is to serve our football players.”
It was hard, but he still misses many parts of his previous gig. Near the top of the list is fan interaction. He also doesn’t watch football anymore, “unless I walk by an office where the coaches are watching film.” Sleep and days off are also in short supply, but at the end of the day, he could not turn down the chance to help his team.
“This is a great opportunity. Not only for me, but to help give back to the program. For me, a lot of it is giving back. It’s providing a service that I think Kentucky needed. To me, it was a no-brainer decision to come back here and begin this new chapter.”
His office is no longer at home, but it hasn’t kept him from seeing his family. In fact, bringing his daughter Ellie to the facility is one of the many perks of working for Mark Stoops.
“I love it. Little things like family. My daughter comes to work with me quite a bit and there’s a bunch of kids running around. It’s a family environment. I really like it. I appreciate this opportunity and it’s been great.”
— Freddie Maggard (@UKPlayerDevelop) June 21, 2018
In two short months, Kentucky has integrated a comprehensive Player Developmental program. Even though the program is in its infancy, Freddie has already seen surprising results.
“Seeing the eyes of the players wide open and learning, and accepting the mentoring, and education, and the resources that we’re providing…when I see that, that’s beneficial. When I see our players going into the community and engaging and see them positively affect others, that’s what I want. When I talk to players and now they’re talking about saving money, when they’re talking about a savings plan or those kind of things, seeing them grow off the field, that’s rewarding. It was unexpected that it would come this fast. I thought it would take more time…We got a long way to go. We’re in the crawl phase but we’re still making a big difference.”
Freddie Maggard’s Player Development program will continue to grow, but there’s no end in sight. Built on preparing Kentucky football players for the next step in their life, even after they reach that point, his job is not finished.
“My job is to help serve them and help prepare them for the future and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s never complete. It’s continually ongoing…The end game is to serve our players.”