By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Ben Hartsock had options when his NFL career ended. He didn’t need them. He knew what he wanted to do.
Hartsock, who played 10 years at tight end for five different teams, figured out his post-NFL career during his NFL career.
“Every NFL player spends a good amount of time wondering what’s going to happen after the game ends,’’ Hartsock said. “And even a player like me, who played over a decade, that’s a long time, but it’s not very long.
“I could have gone into coaching, or broadcasting. There were opportunities there. But I knew what I was going to do.’’
Hartsock’s playing career, which saw him play for the Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers, came to an end after the 2013 season. Two years later he was working as a player agent for Priority Sports, the Chicago-based agency that represented him throughout his career.
“I talked to (his agent) Mike (McCartney) throughout my career about what he had done and what I might want to do,’’ Hartsock said. “Mike was a scout and a director of personnel before he became an agent. And that was a big advantage for him. I started thinking about becoming an agent about my seventh, or eighth, year in the league. I saw what Mike and Priority Sports had done for me. I was so happy with what they did for me. It was invaluable how much they had helped me.’’
Hartsock graduated from Ohio State magna cum laude in 2004 and was drafted early in the third round, 68th overall, by the Colts.
Throughout his NFL career he was a team captain, a player representative and was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Now his job is to first find, and then help develop, players to achieve those same types of goals
“Unless you’re a generational player — your dad played — when you come out of school and even if it’s a big school, I went to Ohio State, you don’t know what the next step looks like,’’ Hartsock said. “You don’t know what a professional career looks like. I had plenty of former teammates from Ohio State come back and say ‘It’s just not the same.’
“I have years of experience that I can pass on to players, in-the- huddle experience, in-the-locker room experience.’’
Very few players make the move from the field to the agent business. It’s not an easy one. There are the advantages, however.
“It’s the difference between sympathy and empathy,’’ Hartsock said “I can feel bad for somebody who had something bad happen to them. But you can empathize as if you shared that same experience.
“One of the reasons I got into it, probably the biggest reason, was to walk along the sides of guys through a NFL career. From the young player scratching and crawling to get on the field to the starter to a veteran on the backside of his career trying to last as long as he can.’’
The 2016 NFL Draft was Hartsock’s first with his players involved. He had Joe Thuney, a guard from North Carolina State, get selected by the New England Patriots in the third round; and David Morgan, a tight end from Texas-San Antonio get selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round.
“It was kind of surreal and brought back memories of my own draft experience,’’ he said.
While there are those experiences, the job remains difficult.
“It’s about developing trust, a relationship and it takes time,’’ Hartsock said. “Players are skeptical about the agent process and rightfully so. There are some negative connotations. It makes it challenging for those of us who try to operate and do things the right way.
“Fortunately I don’t have to convince a player what we do. I just show them what they did for me.’’