By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Aaron Kampman played 10 seasons in the NFL before moving on with his life. It was the kind of NFL career members of the current University of Iowa football team would love to match.
Kampman, a Hawkeye senior in 2001, shared a dinner table in the Tippie Consensus All Americans Room Thursday night with guys like Toren Young, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Geno Stone, Michael Ojemudia, Mekhi Sargent, and Amani Jones.
Kampman’s message wasn’t about NFL paychecks or 10-year professional football careers. It was a much bigger view of life.
“He said that Iowa is going to get you ready for the business side of life,” Ojemudia said.
It was the fifth annual Networking Night, the brainchild of former quarterback Chuck Hartlieb and a way for current team members to get career advice from former Hawkeyes.
“Probably of all the things we’ve done in the last 20-plus years, this event continues to give us the best feedback,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. “Our players enjoy it. It has been a good deal, a good initiative.”
Kampman was one of 30 former Hawkeyes who spent Thursday evening talking to members of the current team, offering advice on how to prepare for a career after football.
“It’s tough to make that transition,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “Hopefully I don’t have to do that for awhile. But I’ve always thought about my professional career. It’s something my parents have always instilled in me as far as getting an education so I have a great opportunity after sports.”
Stanley is looking to a career in physical therapy after football ends.
“When these guys were in our footsteps, all they wanted to do was play football,” Stanley said. “When that ended for them, it wasn’t the end of their life or their career. That’s when they started their professional lives.”
Guys like Eric Thigpen, who came to Iowa from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois, to letter four seasons as a defensive back (1995-98) under coach Hayden Fry.
“The conversation we had was talking about life after football,” Thigpen said. “Not everyone is going to make it to the NFL. If you do make it, it won’t last. You have to prepare yourself for life after football. They had a lot of questions for us, and we answered them to the best of our ability.
“Hopefully it will have some impact on their lives in the future.”
Thigpen was a sixth-round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 1998, then played in the NFL, CFL and Arena League before hanging up his cleats and moving on with life when he was 25 or 26 years old.
“At that point in time it wasn’t hard,” said Thigpen, who is now in pharmaceutical sales and lives in North Liberty. “I knew I couldn’t play the game forever. Coach Fry always told us he was going to make sure we got our degree. I’m glad he stayed on us about that, and it paid off.”
That same message still resonates at Iowa under Ferentz.
“I’m not saying you have to have a college degree to be successful or be happy,” Ferentz said. “I’m not suggesting that at all, but all our guys have the opportunity to (get a degree). It’s their choice. It puts you in position to go to your next step.”
Some members of the current roster have already decided their career path after college. Senior fullback Brady Ross is going to be a financial advisor.
“I’m passionate about it,” Ross said. “I think a lot of people need help with it. I was fortunate enough to job shadow someone in Humboldt (his hometown) when I was in high school, and it was something I thought I’d like to do.”
In Ross’ case, life will imitate football. As a fullback, his job is to do the dirty work in the trenches to make the offense click.
“Everyone on the football team is trying to help out their buddy,” Ross said. “That’s what a financial advisor is all about.”
Ojemudia, a senior defensive back, said his goal right now is to follow football’s path as far as it takes him, but he has a fallback plan. He’s an engineering major.
“After football there’s the realization that that you have to do what you love in life,” Ojemudia said. “I’m an engineer. My passion is cars.”
Ojemudia wants to do external designs on cars and follow his father’s footsteps. Dennis Ojemudia was an engineer for the Ford Motor Company.
Professional football took a physical toll on Anthony Herron, who played for both Fry and Ferentz at Iowa. He also played professionally in the NFL and Arena Football, before his body put up the white flag to surrender.
“It was difficult for me,” Herron said. “I was always banged up. The mortality of my football career was always in my subconscious somewhere, but I never wanted to fully accept it or recognize it until I got later in my career.”
Herron now has a wide-ranging media career, from his work for the Pac-12 Network to doing Chicago Bears postgame work. He also has a show on SiriusXM Radio.
Herron offered a fountain of information to members of the Iowa football team Thursday night.
“I had them all open their notebook and write the word internship at the top of the page,” Herron said. “Beyond that I added some side notes, like (job) shadowing someone, or having a moment when you can pick someone’s brain.”
Football, Herron told them, won’t last forever.
“At some point your career is going to be over,” Herron said. “You’re going to want to maximize whatever you develop while you are here, as much as you can.”
By RICK BROWN