By DARREN MILLER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Soon after the Tennessee Titans make their selections Thursday through Saturday at the NFL Draft held in the shadow of Nissan Stadium, the six rookies will become acquainted with Chic Ejiasi.
Ejiasi, a football letterwinner for the University of Iowa from 2001-04, begins his fourth season as director of player engagement with the Titans. It is similar to the role he held as director of football player development at the University of Iowa from 2008-16.
“I do a lot of work helping rookies make the transition from college to the NFL and help any new player we bring on, whether it be in free agency or practice squad guys,” Ejiasi said Wednesday from Titans Headquarters. “I help them get situated once they get to Nashville.”
Ejiasi and his wife, Ellie, were on a spring break get-away to Colorado in 2016 when Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz phoned.
“He said I might get a call from Jon Robinson, general manager of the Titans,” Ejiasi said.
Robinson’s call came seconds after Ejiasi hung up with Ferentz. Two weeks later, Ejiasi was employed by the Titans. He serves as a resource to young players so they can concentrate more on football and less on finding a place to live, how to pursue an offseason internship, and in some cases, how to return to college to get a degree.
Every NFL team is required to hire someone in a player engagement role, although the specific duties vary from team to team.
“Rookies are like freshmen in college all over again, trying to soak up everything they can,” Ejiasi said. “Our coaching staff does a great job educating them on what is to come. The players know we’re a resource to help them at the end of the day, it is not us telling them to do this or that.”
Because of similarities to what he did at Iowa, the transition from college to the pros was relatively painless for Ejiasi. With the Hawkeyes, he helped freshmen transition to college by doing things like working with the University of Iowa academic staff and setting up community service projects.
“I was a resource for the guys to help them with things outside of football,” Ejiasi said.
Ejiasi graduated from Cedar Rapids Prairie (Iowa) High School and walked on to the Hawkeye program in 2000. During his four seasons, Iowa won 38 games, including victories in the Alamo, Outback, and Capital One bowls. Ejiasi was a defensive back on Big Ten championship teams in 2002 and 2005.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in health and sports studies in 2005, and master’s in recreational sports management in 2012.
“Going through the program at Iowa, you learn a lot about yourself, pushing yourself,” Ejiasi said. “You learn about being part of a team, something that is bigger than you. That is huge. I learned a lot as a player and then to work on staff with coach Ferentz, coach (Chris) Doyle, all the guys (at Iowa) do an unbelievable job. You try to learn a little bit from everybody; I had a great experience.”
Ejiasi was born in Houston; ironically, the Titans were known as the Houston Oilers from 1960-96. Other than living in Houston for his first eight years, Ejiasi spent the majority of his life in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area. He has acclimated well to life in Nashville.
The busiest part of Ejiasi’s season will begin after the NFL Draft, which is expected to lure 300,000 people to Nashville over a three-day period. The quietest period is the regular season. Ejiasi attends all Titans games — home and away — and assumes somewhat of an operations role on the road.
Two Hawkeyes — Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson — were high school seniors when Ejiasi accepted the position with the Titans. Fant, Hockenson, and several other Hawkeyes are expected to join Ejiasi in the NFL in the next two days.
“It’s great to see them do well,” Ejiasi said. “I had a chance to see quite a few of those guys at the combine; it was nice to run into them and catch up. When they were coming (to Iowa) I was helping them figure out housing.”
There are currently 14 players on the Titans roster from Big Ten schools. Iowa running back Akrum Wadley was in camp last season and defensive lineman Karl Klug retired in 2017 after seven seasons. Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods played the final two seasons of his seven-year NFL career with the Titans, as did running back Shonn Greene in 2013 and 2014.
That sample indicates how Titans management values a Hawkeye.
“(With Iowa players) they think of tough, dependable guys,” Ejiasi said. “They know exactly what they are going to get and that has a lot to do with coach Ferentz and coach Doyle and the staff. Any scout knows they will see (Iowa) guys who are tough, dependable, smart kids.”