By Teresa Varley
This offseason has been a learning experience for offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton, but it hasn't been all about football.
Stapleton is one of three Steelers players who took part in the NFL Business Management Entrepreneurial Program, attending his session at the Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University). The program is part of an NFL-NFLPA initiative to assist players in preparing for life after football.
"I thought it would be good for me to get out there and do it," said Stapleton. "I talked to Sean Mahan and Max Starks who had been to the program at Stanford in the past. I am the kind of person who wants to get information on things and be well aware of what's going on. I thought it would be a good opportunity.
"When my playing career is done, whenever that is, I want to be a business person and want to be business savvy. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to get some insight on it."
The program provided a foundation for recognizing sound marketing plans and prepares players to analyze opportunities.
"They talked a lot about franchises, starting your own business, branding, financing, promoting your idea, getting patents, and running a successful business," said Stapleton. "It was run in lecture form but we had case studies where we went over different companies and how they formed and what it took to finance it and what it ended up selling for after it appreciated."
While football comes first for Stapleton right now, the program helped him think ahead to the future when he would like to start a business of his own.
"I got a lot from the program," said Stapleton. "Even thought it was only four days it was accelerated and they threw a lot at you. I took a lot of notes. A lot of people they brought in were people that played in the NFL and went on to do other things and were able to make the right investments. I feel like I walked away a little more business savvy. I plan on going again next year."
His current plans, though, are much more set. Stapleton has been taking part in the team's offseason workouts which began a week ago, something he puts a lot of value in.
"It's real important for me to be here," said Stapleton. "Even though I was working out back home it's not the same as having teammates there pushing you to get better. That is a plus to be out here for that.
"This offseason will be another learning experience for me, getting a full offseason in. This will be another big part of me growing as a professional athlete."
Last offseason as a rookie much of Stapleton's focus was on learning the playbook, understanding all of the blocking schemes and so forth. With that under his belt he can now shift his focus and work more on technique such as footwork, hand placement and the like.
He is hoping that the extra work pays off. Stapleton didn't see any playing time last season, being inactive for the regular season and dressing but not playing in the AFC Wild Card game against the Jaguars.
"It's real hard," said Stapleton of the lack of playing time. "Everyone in the building is a competitor. Everyone on the team is here because they love to compete and I love to compete as well. Not playing for the whole year was tough. It just makes you hungrier.
"I was hoping I could get some playing time somewhere along the line if we were blowing some one out. It didn't work out for last year so I have to get it in where I can."
The Steelers recently signed free agent center Justin Hartwig to compete for the starting spot, and have Sean Mahan returning. But Stapleton plans on being a part of the battle to anchor the line.
"I see myself in the mix. That's why I work out and that's why I am here," said Stapleton. "I don't want to be the person who they say is just a backup. The whole dream of playing in the NFL is actually playing. I hope I get the chance to show I can play at this level. But if I am a back-up again this year I am going to play my role and do what I need to do to be a part of this team."