Daniel Sampson and Mike Adams were roommates when they first started working for the Washington Redskins. Sampson was a running back, cornerback and kick returner in high school, and he went on to get a journalism degree at Texas Southern University. He is now the Redskins' assistant director of communications. Adams was an offensive guard at Howard University, where he earned a degree in business management. He is now responsible for filming and editing all of the Redskins' practices and games.
The two had a lot to talk about.
Both had been surrounded by football for the most of their lives. But the conversation didn't stick to just X's and O's. It was about what they could have done better in their developmental years -- what they could have done better before they entered college. Sampson didn't fully understand the eligibility process for college. He ended up being one credit short of being able to play in college in his freshman year because he took a broadcasting class as his English requirement, but that wasn't approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Adams didn't get involved with the football recruiting process until after his senior year of high school. And, finances were a struggle for both.
"I got an envelope, with a Capital One credit card in it," Sampson said. "I was like, 'Oh great, free money going to school? Free cards? This is heaven.' I found out that that is not the case."
The two felt like they could teach young student-athletes a lot based on their own lives, and it almost became their duty to do so.
"To me, I truly feel like it's my job," Adams said. "You just don't forget that so many people can benefit off of your story."
Adams and Sampson wanted high school football players to be more prepared for the entire college process than they were, and the two formed Driven By Our Ambitions, which was inspired by a lyric in Tupac Shakur's "Unconditional Love." The idea is to combine a football clinic with classroom lessons to help high school players become better prepared for college and beyond.
Adams and Sampson were able to get Redskins coaches, players, and others within the organization on board with the idea, and the Washington Redskins Charitable Organization joined the cause. Driven By Our Ambitions held its first clinic on June 14 for more than 120 high school student football players, primarily from the Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland area.
It included an informational session about the college eligibility process, which was run by a NCAA Eligibility Center member, and a planning session with the College Advising Corps to help the students create a game plan for their future. There was a crash course on financial success through Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, which specializes in helping young adults become more financially savvy, and NCSA recruiting explained how to get the maximum amount of exposure to get a college offer.
The football part included personal coaching from Washington Redskins coaches and players, including quarterback Robert Griffin III, tight end Niles Paul, fullback Darrel Young, offensive tackle Trent Williams, offensive coordinator Sean McVay.
Driven By Our Ambitions required that the students had good grades and overall academic success, as the NCAA requires athletes to have a 2.3 GPA and the right test scores and core courses in high school. The participants also had to be rising juniors or seniors.
One of the participants was Dominique Smith, a rising senior at Rangeview High School in Aurora, Colo., where he plays running back and linebacker. Smith made the 2013 All-Aurora League Second team as a linebacker as a junior. Smith, like all of the participants, received a handbook that included all of the Redskins agility drills, a guide to good nutrition and stretching techniques to improve each athlete. Smith says he learned a lot, and that the camp really broadened his horizons in a lot of different subjects, including finances.
"I learned the difference between credit and debit," Smith said. "Things you should know as far as credit cards and stuff like that, so that you don't put yourself in debt or you don't ruin your credit score. A good credit score takes you a long way."
Parents were also encouraged to participate in the clinic because they play a huge role in the recruiting process. The parents were not only learning about recruiting, but also finances and eligibility, according to Adams.
"Parents should understand that this is a big step for young men, and they need some support," Sampson said. "Not just peer support. They need support from adults. I want them to be a part of it, and encourage them to be with (their kids) to learn the process as well, and to be the backbone to help them to continue to push towards the next step in life, which is college."
The Redskins had held a test run of the clinic in 2013, and it featured only seven kids. Sampson said it was still a success because they were still ultimately helping out those seven students. But other within the Redskins jumped on board with Sampson and Adams to ensure its success and wider reach. Michael Lindo, a public relations intern, helped out. Aubrey Pleasant, the defensive quality coach and assistant defensive backs coach, helped get a sponsor for gear for the participants. He also helped organize the coaching for the camp. Blair Williams, a video assistant and a D.C. native, helped Driven By Our Ambitions with branding and by reaching out to the community to try to bring kids from all over the area to the clinic.
"What I liked about Mike and Daniel's idea is that it's (based) on what I was grown up on," Williams said. "Having academics and as well as sports to give the kids diversity by keeping their attention and keeping them coming. They have it set up so that they can branch off to do other things (beyond sports)."
The players and coaches also jumped up to support Driven By Our Ambitions. Robert Griffin III tweeted out the event information to his million Twitter followers a month before the event, and defensive lineman Chris Baker even had his old high school guidance counselor help out with the camp. Sampson and Adams were appreciative of the support they were getting from their Redskins colleagues for Driven By Our Ambitions, from the players, coaches and others in the organization.
"It meant a lot to us," Adams said. "It really validated our relationship. I think that's one thing that me and Daniel have, a great relationship with the staff here. It allows us to ask them for things like that, and they don't even think twice about coming out and helping us."
According to Sampson, the goal is to expand this program to other cities as well, including Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and Chicago by 2016. Both the NFL Player Engagement and the NCAA Eligibility Center attended the event, so growth within football, as well as other sports, is a possibility that Driven By Our Ambitions welcomes in the future.
What started off as a conversation between Sampson and Adams has blossomed into an organization that can really help high school football players' futures. Both Sampson and Adams said they just want students to learn from their mistakes, so they can be avoided in the future. And both are more than happy to help.
"This has always been something in my heart that I wanted to do, to help out kids in a way that I see fit. I played football my entire life, and so I felt like this was a vehicle that I could help somebody out with. It means a lot to me."