Life after football

NEW?ORLEANS — Central High graduate Jeff Charleston has been to the top of the mountain in the National Football League, winning a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints in 2010.    Now he’s ready to scale a new challenge off the field.    Charleston, who graduated from Central High School in 2002, entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2006 after playing at Western Oregon University and Idaho State University.    Charleston played defensive end during the 2007-2012 seasons, including the Saints’ Super Bowl winning team in 2010.    “I wouldn’t trade my years in the NFL for anything,” Charleston said. “I wouldn’t have went to New Orleans if not for the NFL and I live there now. I met my wife there in 2009. It’s a special place.”    But after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, Charleston decided to take his life in a new direction.    “I spent my entire life in football since kindergarten,” Charleston said. “It was time for something else. I was fortunate to be part of a Super Bowl team. But I think the lessons I took away from it is helping me every day.”    With Charleston entering a future without football, he is attending Tulane University, studying for his Master of Business Administration.    “It’s definitely different going from professional sports back to a classroom setting,” Charleston said. “It’s enjoyable. There’s a lot of people who complain, but it’s really easy. No matter how intense and how hard it is, you’re not sore and you’re not getting hit.”    Charleston hopes to own his own business one day. Despite his success, his life beyond sports was never far from his mind.    “Most guys don’t realize it’s an experience, not a career,” Charleston said. “Very few guys play for 10 or 15 years, especially in football, so you have to take your experiences from it into whatever career you decide on.”    Pursuing a master’s may be an expensive proposition, but he isn’t facing this alone. Charleston is using a little-known NFL program where players can be reimbursed for their education.    And while football and business may not seem to share a lot in common at first glance, the principles Charleston learned through years of playing are paying off in the classroom.    “The biggest thing is never be satisfied,” Charleston said. “There is always someone out there working harder than you. That’s the biggest thing for life. It doesn’t matter where you are. Somewhere, someone is better than you and you have to keep that chip on your shoulder to reach your full potential.”    But the impact sports have had on Charleston’s journey into the world of business goes beyond a desire to improve.    “Football has definitely helped with the leadership aspect,” Charleston said. “Our classroom is split up with managerial and finance parts. The managerial part comes very easy. In football, you have people from all different walks of life who come together to play as a team. I’ve been around some great leaders, and some of their philosophies apply to the business world.”    As Charleston embarks on the next chapter of his life, he’s hoping his story continues to inspire up-and-coming athletes. But Charleston isn’t just out to prove that athletes from cities both large and small can make the big leagues. He’s hoping to show that life after sports doesn’t have to be a daunting proposition, either.    “The biggest piece of advice I would give kids is to focus on education first,” Charleston said. “You never know where sports are going to take you. You see some of the best athletes get injured. You have to have a backup plan. That allows you to focus on your first plan.”

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