Spikes faces another training grind

Posted: June 21, 2007

TAKEO SPIKES has been in front of a camera for years now and hasn't frozen up yet.

Whether it was pretending to be a commentator taping basketball games with his family's first camcorder when he 7, or laying out opposing quarterbacks, Spikes has been anything but camera-shy.

But for some reason, the cameras got the best of him and 19 other NFL players who were participating in the NFL's Broadcast Boot Camp at Dick's Sporting Goods in Mt. Laurel, N.J., yesterday.

"It's different, very different, but it's something that I can get used to later on down the line," Spikes said with a smile. "Like 5 or 6 years later."

While Spikes, the Eagles' newly acquired linebacker, reiterated several times that his main focus is still football, all the players understood the importantance of preparing for life after the game.

In its first year, the camp - put on by the NFL Player Development program - focuses on educating players and developing their skills for postcareer opportunities. More than 300 athletes applied but only 20 were selected.

Throughout the 3-day session, players went through seminars to improve their broadcasting abilities. They received hands-on work with tape study, show production and field preparation from broadcasters such as CBS' James Brown, ESPN's Ron Jaworski and KYW sports anchor Beasley Reece. Each player received a tape of himself in various situations to use for resumes.

"We wanted this to be a very serious thing because these guys are serious," said NFL Films producer Steve Trout. "They all want something to do when football is done. They want to walk the walk so we want to put them through this boot camp to see if they can talk the talk."

Spikes said the hardest part was trying to forget he was a football player. Eventually, Spikes and his partner, Mario Haggan of the Buffalo Bills, looked like naturals as they interviewed one another.

"It's like riding a bike. The first time you get on there you're a little shaky but after a couple reps you get the hang of it pretty well," Spikes said.

With players like Tiki Barber and Keyshawn Johnson making a rich jump from the gridiron to television, many of the players look at them as motivation. Barber, who retired after last season, signed a 4-year, $10-million contract with ABC, while the recently retired Johnson will be a regular on ESPN this fall.

NFL player development manager Vaughn Bryant said it's important that players start thinking about their future as early as when they enter the league. While the player-development program does not make these types of programs mandatory, Bryant said they are strongly recommended.

"Most football careers only last an average of 3 or 4 years. We want to make sure our players have a fulfilled career, whether it be through volunteering, teaching or coaching, give them the tools to do that," Bryant said.

"It doesn't matter if you go through the player-development program or go out and do something strictly on your own. We just want our guys to be productive during the offseason and have a rich NFL experience, leverage the opportunities that are before them."

Making the transition for life after football for many athletes isn't always an easy one. Spikes said he learned to approach broadcasting the same we he does an opposing running back.

"It's never too late," he said. "You have to approach it the same way you approach football. The more prepared you are in anything you do in life, the better off you definitely will be."

Heading for the booth

While Spikes' playing days are still well ahead of him, some others are coming to an end faster. Former Eagles linebacker Dhani Jones was among the 20 players at the Broadcast Boot Camp.

While Spikes' playing days are still well ahead of him, some others are coming to an end faster. Former Eagles linebacker Dhani Jones was among the 20 players at the Broadcast Boot Camp.

Jones, who hasn't been heard from the since the Eagles released him April 30, is still a free agent but says he has continued to explore different markets while staying in shape in hopes of landing on a roster before training camp.

"My playing days are still going," said Jones, who spent the last three seasons with the Eagles. "Things happen. Regardless of when it occurs, you know it's a possibility at any moment and you just look forward to the next opportunity." *

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