By Matthew Sockol
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Middle school students in the Freehold Township K-8 School District recently received some advice from a former professional football player who hails from Monmouth County.
Donald Brown, a running back who played in the National Football League for seven seasons, spoke to sixth through eighth grade students at the Barkalow Middle School and the Eisenhower Middle School on March 16.
Brown’s appearance was on the behalf of Natural High, a nonprofit organization based in San Diego, Calif., that seeks to prevent young people from turning to drugs.
Brown, 29, was born in Atlantic Highlands and currently resides in Spring Lake. He attended Red Bank Catholic High School and earned a football scholarship to the University of Connecticut.
Following an outstanding career at UConn during which he rushed for 3,800 yards from 2006-08, Brown was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2009. He played for the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV (4-18 rushing, 1-11 receiving) on Feb. 7, 2010. Indianapolis lost to the New Orleans Saints, 31-17.
Brown later played for the San Diego Chargers and his time in San Diego led to his introduction to Natural High.
A “natural high,” as described by Brown during his presentation at the Barkalow Middle School, is any activity an individual enjoys. He cited football as his natural high, along with surfing and snowboarding.
“You can have as many natural highs as you want,” Brown told the students. “The amount of them is endless. Find out what your natural high is. If you can’t find it, keep looking.”
In addition to informing students about natural highs, Brown spoke about the importance of education and friendships.
“Education is what is most important of all,” he said. “If you don’t have the grades, you can’t play football. If you don’t do well in school, you can’t participate in activities.”
Brown said his education allowed him to study and learn his team’s playbook while he was in the NFL.
On the subject of friendships, Brown advised the students to be with people who share the same beliefs, ideas and values as them. He told them he had to distance himself from individuals who continually encouraged him to try drugs.
“They are not your true friends if they keep pushing drugs on you,” he said.
Brown, who told the students he never tried drugs, acknowledged that avoiding them can be difficult at first. He said rejecting drugs becomes easier the more one does so.
In keeping with his advice to be with people who share similar interests and ideas, Brown specifically told the eighth-graders who were listening to his presentation that their transition into high school would be aided by joining a club or an activity.
“You guys are going through a huge transition into high school and it can be daunting,” he told the students who will graduate from middle school in June. “Get involved in clubs and activities. You are almost given friends (in those clubs). For me, it was sports.
“My challenge for you is to get plugged in and to enjoy your high school experience,” Brown said.
The retired running back said he chose to pursue football because it was the sport at which he was most successful, but he acknowledged experiencing difficulties.
“There were times I was struggling and wanted to quit,” Brown said. “People doubted me, but my desire to play kept me going.”
He cited his parents as a major influence on his football career and also gave credit to friends who supported him.
The most important advice Brown said he could give to the students was to set goals for themselves.
“In high school, I set goals,” he said. “I wanted to play Division I sports. At Connecticut, I wanted to play in the NFL. Once I started setting goals, I knew anything was possible.”