Ten years ago this month, Angelo Crowell was waiting for his phone to ring.
"I was just waiting for my name to be called," he remembers of the 2003 Draft. "I was projected to go in the 2nd round and the clock kept ticking for me and come 3rd round I was like 'just call my name the first day so I can just get this over with.' There's so much build up to the draft."
When the Bills selected the linebacker in that 3rd round as the 94th overall pick, Crowell shed tears of joy.
"It was something I worked at my whole life, to play on the highest level," he said. "It was something I dreamt about, I worked hard for and looked forward to and it was a great accomplishment for me and my family."
He'd reached the pinnacle of the sport - a career in the NFL - but after 5 seasons in Buffalo, it wasn't something he was content to hang his hat on. Ten years later, Crowell is living out another lifelong dream, and one he's already found to be more sustainable. He and wife Kimberly are the franchise owners of a handful of Jersey Mike's Subs locations, a successful upscale sub shop chain. He wasted little time in transition, opening his first franchise in November 2010 in Tallahassee, Florida, not long after leaving the NFL.
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"My older brother played in the league about 6 years before me, and I watched the transition when he finished the game," he said. "One of his words of wisdom was to start to work on your transition plan before your game actually ends because you never know when it's going to end. So it was always in the back of my head."
Next week, Crowell will seek to impart that brotherly wisdom on 21 current and former players who are looking into franchising businesses of their own at the NFL's Franchising Bootcamp at the University of Michigan. An athlete and businessman, he sees his career in sports as an advantage in the business world.
"Growing up playing football my whole life, I understand the team concept," he said. "You go as far as your team will take you. No one player is bigger than the team. Your people are the ones on the front line dealing with the customers, so you need to be putting the right team in front of the customers."
But he'll only apply his NFL past so far in his new career. While a former NFL player might use his notoriety as leverage, Crowell says he doesn't like mentioning that he played football at the professional level.
"People's perceptions of athletes are of the horror stories, and very rarely do they hear about the athletes who have transformed into great entrepreneurs," he said. "A lot of people think we're just athletes and want to throw money and something and not really learn the business to take the steps we need to take to be successful."
Since high school, he says he's had his sights set on the bigger picture after a coach told him to be defined by more than just his football skills. He's proud of his business skills and the fight it took him to open franchises he believes in.
"Football is something that God-given ability gave me the opportunity to do and to create a great start for my family," said Crowell, the new father of 8-month old Kendall Grace. "It's always been a dream to be a businessman and entrepreneur. This is something I've always wanted."