Former NFL cornerback Ray McElroy says one particular play that knocked him to the ground made him realize it’s important to always get up.
At first standing before student-athletes at Higley High School in Gilbert on Thursday, McElroy dropped to the ground, stuck his feet in the air and demonstrated his predicament that game.
“Even though I was knocked down, I didn’t stay down. I picked myself up. I ran and I finished the play,” he told about 300 students in the audience Thursday.
McElroy and former NFL linebacker Steve Grant both visited schools in Higley Unified School District this week to share encouragement. The visits were planned by Xperience Outreach, an organization that brings pro athletes to schools to provide motivation, as well as set up activities at large sports events like the Super Bowl. Along with Higley and Sossaman, the athletes went to Cooley Middle School.
During his talk to students, McElroy kept his focus on choices — the good and the bad — that are placed before young people every day.
“You’re not born a winner or a loser. You’re born a chooser,” he said.
Students should focus on a goal and a dream to give them a map for their future, he said. He then shared his own story about playing football.
“At 7 years old, I knew I was going pro,” he said, remembering the Thanksgiving he was watched football on television with is family and became enchanted by the game.
To reach his goal, McElroy said, “I did not just go to college, but I got my college degree.” He is a graduate of Easter Illinois University. After graduation, the Indianapolis Colts drafted him. He spent six years in the NFL with the Colts, the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions.
McElroy also talked to high school students about the need to choose to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
To demonstrate how poor choices slow you down, McElroy raced two students while trying to drag and carry several other students.
He didn’t get very far.
“You’re not moving as quickly or productively as you could have. One poor choice leads to two. Two poor choices lead to more,” he told the students. “You make thesechoices to the point that you don’t finish the race at all.”
When Grant spoke to Sossaman students at the Queen Creek school, he told them to “Dare to dream. But if you never wake up from that dream and make it a reality, it’s nothing more than a nightmare of wasted potential.”
Grant told the students about meeting a student after one of his talks a few months ago. The two played one-on-one basketball in the school’s gym and Grant was impressed with the student’s skills.
“Are you on the varsity basketball team?” Grant asked him. The student scoffed at the idea, expressing no need to play on the school’s team because he was “just going to make it” to the NBA.
“He didn’t think he needed to be in class or go to college or play organized sports,” Grant said. “If you do not use your gifts and talents to get what you want, it’s wasted potential.”
Sossaman student Jared Redding liked what he heard, especially that, “Obstacles will test your dreams.”
Higley High School assistant principal and athletic director Jeremy Richards said the professional athletes made a positive impression on the students and he was impressed with their stories.
“Ray McElroy provided a message for Higley students about empowering them to make positive life choices. One of the important choices emphasized was striving for a college degree,” he said.
The visit by the former NFL players coincides with Saturday night’s Celebrity Basketball game. Grant and McElroy, along with other celebrity athletes, will join varsity basketball players from local high schools, and Town of Gilbert officials in a game at Gilbert’s Mesquite High School, 500 S. McQueen Road. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $2.