Simi Valley football players were initially skeptical that Rams Aaron Donald visit them at school on Wednesday afternoon. Coach Jim Benkert told them about it the night before.
“They didn’t believe me,” Benkert said.
About 100 players were seated in the stands at the gym when Donald walked through the entrance wearing a white T-shirt, gray track shorts and gray sneakers. Benkert introduced him with a microphone, but he was soon answering questions without a microphone, talking about his early life in Pittsburgh, when several schools recruited him after high school; about winning the Super Bowl with the Rams; about what it takes to be successful.
“I don’t mind talking to the kids,” Donald said. “I could do this all day.”
Benkert arranged the visit, and the 6ft 1in, 285lb center Jess Norton was thrilled.
“It’s very inspiring and great to have someone of that caliber coming to Simi Valley,” he said.
One of Donald’s most important messages was about training when no one is paying attention.
“It’s easy to do when your coach or teammates are around,” he said. “Let’s see how you work when no one is watching.”
Prior to the 15-minute visit, Donald signed items such as T-shirts and hats and then took photographs.
His priority was to try to make sure the players understand that not everyone can play college or professional football, but the game you love will create relationships and friendships with teammates that can last a lifetime. He said he learned discipline, work ethic, and forged close ties through football.
He said the work ethic he now has was not like that from the start. He said that in high school, his father used to get up at 4:30 in the morning to help him work out.
“Enjoy the moment,” he told the players. “Focus on books.”
As for winning super bowlDonald said, “There’s nothing like it.”
Donald said he would continue to keep in touch with young athletes. “Anything I can do to help the next generation,” he said.