It's become a tradition, one that Mike Tomlin holds close to his heart because it's all about his hometown of Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Every year when the Hampton Roads All-Star Football Camp takes place, Tomlin does his part by hosting the Annual Mike Tomlin Meet & Greet Reception. It's a chance for Tomlin, and professional athletes from the Hampton Roads area, to give back to the kids in the community by sharing stories of where they came from and how they got to where they are today.
The stories are inspiring and uplifting, giving hope to many who need that extra push.
While the event had to be canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing you can never cancel is Tomlin's energy and enthusiasm for his hometown.
In lieu of the event, Tomlin took part in a two-part grill-side interview with Carl Francis, Director of Communication for the NFLPA and co-founder of the Hampton Roads Youth Foundation (HRYF) and Vernon Lee, the co-founder of the HRYF, as the entire event was virtual this year.
"However we can keep this train rolling and touch people from the house, I am in," said Tomlin.
Tomlin shared stories of his time growing up in Hampton Roads, those who made an impact on his life from the '757,' and how some of the lessons he learned then still impact him today in his coaching profession.
"Being where we are from, our sports stars are accessible," said Tomlin of athletes from Hampton Roads. "We don't have professional sports. Growing up where we grew up, you grow up looking up to high school athletes. They are accessible to you. You see them at the mall. There is an accessibility there. Making it for me was not this deal that made you accessible. It was being able to share the love with your people and moving around and doing the things you always do and get that love.
"There is a warmth when I am at home. There is a comfort and ease when I am on those familiar streets. I am not guarded in any way. That is a cool feeling that I never experience when I am away from there. When I am not there. I am on. I am Coach Tomlin when I am not at home. When I am in that part of Virginia, people love and respect me for reasons beyond the job I hold. The relationships run so much deeper. It's a cool thing."
Tomlin talked about his dream of playing in the NFL, a dream that didn't play out the way he thought it would, but still turned out because he never stopped working.
"I wanted to play professionally," shared Tomlin. "In pursuit of playing aspirations, I didn't realize all along I was sharpening my sword for coaching. I was really passionate about the game. Playing to win and leading. Getting into the schematics of it. Not just from inside a helmet perspective, but globally. When you are a wide receiver, a lot of people have to do their job in an effort for you to do your job. I had to gain some global understanding of why I wasn't getting the ball enough. That is why to this day I have so much patience for those who play the position. Guilty as charged."
Tomlin played college football at William & Mary, given the opportunity to get a scholarship and offers from schools not just because of his talent on the field, but academics as well. And it was all thanks to a 10th grade teacher who challenged a young man who always is up for a challenge. He was a 'B' student at the time, and she questioned if he could get an 'A' in her class.
You can guess what happened.
"I had always been a competitor. She challenged me in the right way," said Tomlin. "Not only will I get an 'A' in your class, I can get an 'A' in all of my classes if I want. In 10th and 11th grade I got straight 'As.' I wasn't aware of what it would open up for me. I was a prisoner in my own mind. A young '757' boy who was a pretty good football player and I had an aspiration that football was going to be my horse out of town. So 3.0 was perfect for that. You are checking that box. I didn't realize until I started getting straight 'As' what avenues that opened for me. Duke, Stanford, the Ivys. I had seen all of the mail come in for my brother, but I hadn't seen any of those schools.
"I got motivated by it. It was an awesome lesson. That is why we have to pour back into all of these kids. You never know what is going to stimulate them or push them in the direction. This lady, Miss Gunner, she challenged me. She knew I was capable of more and she touched the right button. I went on to be a National Honor Society kid because of it and I know it wouldn't have happened if not for that challenge.
"I challenge my kids in that way. And they respond. They deliver 'As' and that is the standard. When you raise the standard for kids, they will meet them. That is what they do. They adapt."
And adapting is something a lot of kids have to do right now. Tomlin knows it could be a tough road for young athletes, especially high school and college seniors who don't know what their football season is going to look like because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Life is not going to be defined by what happens to him, things outside of their control. Their life is going to be defined by how they respond to those things, not only in the short term, but in the long term," said Tomlin. "We can't fear short-term misery. We have to embrace short-term misery. It can't be about short-term gratification. There are going to be some dark days ahead. As mentors, we that interact with people, we can't ignore that exists.
"It's the same thing I am talking to my rookies about right now. There are a lot of reasons for an NFL rookie in 2020 to fail. I am looking for guys who are looking to excel despite this. It might be setting themselves up for successful careers. It might not show up in terms of statistic in 2020.
"It's tough right now. It's made for tough-minded people. Smile in the face of it, roll your sleeves up and get working. In the long run, you know they win."