While the wintry months in Western New York seem to drag for Bills fans longing for the brighter days of the football season, there really isn't much "downtime" for the players, per se. Despite the vigorous NFL schedule, it's always amazing to see what athletes from around the league accomplish during their break. This offseason, Bills fullback Pat DiMarco elected to use his time to invest in himself by participating in an externship with Georgia Tech's Athletic department.
"I take this as an opportunity to invest in myself," said DiMarco. "The NFL doesn't last long. It's lasted a lot longer than I thought it would last for me when I started my career. I'm going into year 10 now and I really didn't take advantage of this stuff in my younger years. I wish I would've, but now…I really need to take advantage of these opportunities. I'm investing in myself. This is how I put this to my wife, I'm investing in where life's going to take us after this NFL journey."
Offered by the NFLPA, the opportunity is one of many available through the association's Externship program. Now in its seventh year, the initiative is more robust than ever before, giving NFL players a chance to gain valuable hands-on experience with 33 of the country's top organizations across multiple industries. One of 70 selected to take part, DiMarco decided he wanted to gain a new perspective on a subject he knows well – sports.
"My theory behind why I'm doing this one at Georgia Tech, is I want to figure out if I want to pursue the business side of sports when I'm done playing," he said. "This is an opportunity to get my feet wet a little bit and Georgia Tech has been great."
During the three-week program, held from Feb. 18 – March 6, DiMarco and fellow NFL player Rashard Fant got the full experience, immersing themselves in topics like academics, business development, communications, compliance, marketing, player development and more. The school's open-door policy allowed the guys to tailor their stay to fit their needs and to better understand their areas of interest.
In his days back on campus, DiMarco stayed busy as he shadowed staff, sat in on executive meetings and spoke directly with the school's athletic director Todd Stansbury, as well as each of the associate athletic directors. A perfect fit for the NFL veteran, who lives close by in Atlanta with his wife, Kirstin and two young children, the program helped him to expand on his undergraduate studies. While attending the University of South Carolina, DiMarco dual majored in business marketing/management and minored in sport and entertainment management.
"For me, my key interests are, one, in athletics. I'm not sure what avenue exactly," said DiMarco. "I've learned a lot. I've liked a lot from meeting with the ops department to the communications department to the marketing and sponsorships department. So, I think all that's really cool through this externship, but I've been so blessed [outside of it]. I've been able to do some investment stuff involving franchising in the real estate world. Those are two things that interest me as well and the finance industry.
"I think there's, especially being around the NFL and a bunch of young guys who don't know what to do with their money, a big market there to really plug in and help these guys and point them in the right direction so they can be financially stable for years to come."
As a major proponent of utilizing the resources he has at his disposal, DiMarco is no stranger to studying up in the offseason. Last year, he enrolled in an online program through the NFLPA that would allow him to earn a business certificate at his own pace. After successfully completing one class, DiMarco has plans to finish the coursework needed to obtain the credential and apply it toward a master's degree.
"I've already been accepted to the Kelley School at Indiana University, so I think I have a four or five-year window where I can take courses up there…," he explained. "It's, like I said, investing in yourself and hopefully furthering along your career – whatever your second career is…"
Getting a look under the hood at one of the nation's prestigious institutions, afforded DiMarco a chance to really hone in on what his second career may be, while putting his NFL background to work. To cap the externship, he and Fant were tasked with a project that would allow them to leave their mark on the school and enhance their public speaking skills at the professional level.
"I think one of the coolest things that we're doing through this program, is they're letting me and Rashard, we're developing a program for them and it's called a "Pro Ready" program," said DiMarco. "They gave us the program outlines and everything they want us to hit, but it's basically how to teach college juniors or seniors…how to be a pro. We're doing that through some of the lessons we've learned through time, scars that we have from making the wrong decisions."
Working together, DiMarco and Fant compiled over 10 pages worth of PowerPoint material to present their plan to Georgia Tech's executive staff. Their recommendations will be utilized by the school as a development tool.
"They also have this program called the 'Total Person' program, which is supposed to be their… [idea of] what they want Georgia Tech to look like. That's from serving your community, to being stellar on the football field, to being excellent in the classroom and then also tying them all [together] and being a good teammate, being a good friend, being a good daughter, brother, husband – whatever it is you are, but just being a totally all-around good person. They're going to directly implement this program into all sports right away."