By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
It is not that often that anyone, never mind a former NFL player, finds the perfect career.
Keith Elias has.
“I love it. It’s wonderful,’’ Elias said of being the NFL Player Engagement Director of Former Players Transition and Programs. “This job is right up my alley.’’
Elias, a star running back at Princeton University, was signed by the New York Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1994. He made the team and beat out the third-round draft pick, Gary Downs, who the team drafted out of North Carolina State, to do so.
Elias spent three years with the Giants (1994-96), two more with the Indianapolis Colts (1998-1999) and one year (2001) with the New York/New Jersey Hitmen of the XFL.
Following his football playing career, he became a motivational speaker.
“It was an evolution over time,’’ Elias said. “When I was done playing, I was really involved in motivational speaking, military stuff, youth stuff, church stuff. I liked it. I traveled the world, speaking.’’
Then when former NFL star cornerback Troy Vincent launched Player Engagement, Elias joined his friend and former teammate as one of the first transition coaches.
“That was my entree in the player engagement world, working with former players,’’ Elias said. “I did that for a few years and branched into the Legends Community as a coordinator.
When Vincent, now the NFL’s executive vice president of pPlayer operations, moved on, and Charles Way took over as vice president of NFL Player Engagement, Elias also moved up in the Player Engagement ranks.
“I knew Charles from our days with the Giants,’’ Elias said. “We had a good relationship. I always say when we played, Charles blocked for me. Now, I block for him.’’
Elias joined the Player Engagement team in August of 2014 on a part-time basis and became a full-time director in May of 2015.
His role is helping NFL Legends, transition from the life of an NFL player into the next phases of their lives.
“It’s the toughest (transition) I’ve ever heard of,’’ Elias said. “You’re taking someone who, from the time they were a kid, their life centered around the game. And now you’re never going to play it again. There are no adult leagues. It’s over. You have a circle of friends who are still playing, but you’re not. So you’ve become disconnected to that group. Your financial situation, you’re never going to make that much money again. That girl who has been hanging out with you for all those years, she may not actually like you.
“There are also issues with identity and purpose. What am I going to do now? Finally, there’s the physical piece. How does your body feel?’’
Elias went through it, going from player to former player, so he knows what it takes and how to handle it.
“There are a lot of different factors,’’ he said. “And every player is different. I never felt the physical part, my body was OK when I was finished playing. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes the physical is the biggest factor.’’
In Elias’ role he uses his team of transition coaches as a conduit to reach out to former players and let them know the Player Engagement team is there for them. The Legends can also contact Elias and his team through the league office or its website, www.nflplayerengagement.com.
They will find a guy at the top, who loves his job.
“I will tell you I love what I’m doing and I want to continue to do it for a long time,’’ Elias said. “I don’t have anything to do with the game any longer, but I do have to do with the gamers, the guys who played. And that’s very satisfying.’’