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Georgia Tech holds a career combine for football players
By Doug Roberson (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Amid a deluge and howling winds outside, Georgia Tech had a Pro Day of a different kind Tuesday night inside Bobby Dodd Stadium.

But relays were replaced by resumes, stopwatches by handshakes, bench-presses by business cards.

It was a chance for more than 25 of the Yellow Jackets’ current and former football players to meet with more than 25 Atlanta business leaders. The goal, like a Pro Day, was to catch someone’s eye by showcasing their skills.

“The NFL’s a job, just like the business world,” wide receiver Tyler Melton said. “You have to sell yourself, and a company has to like you. It has to be a good fit. Getting on a team and getting a job are quite similar.”

The event was coach Paul Johnson’s idea to help the players connect with Atlanta’s rich business environment. He held a few similar sessions while coaching at Navy, and the first event at Tech was held last year. That event focused more on life advice from the leaders to players. This year’s had a more practical goal of helping the two sides connect, possibly with internships or jobs. Johnson said he hopes to add another session late this year for the players who will graduate in May or the summer.

Johnson learned long ago that first jobs often are the result of making connections and who you know. His first job came when he was hired as an assistant by his former coach at Avery County (N.C.) High School.

“The CEOs would prefer to hire athletes because they know they have a good work ethic, they have been in a team environment,” Johnson said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

With rain and wind as the backdrop in the Letterwinner’s Lounge in the north end of the stadium, Melton, who is on schedule to graduate in May with a degree in management, and Robert Hall, who graduated with a degree in management last year, were the first two players to show up. They were prepared. Hall carried several copies of his resume, while Melton sported his 2009 ACC championship ring to use as a conversation-starter.

Echoing Johnson’s belief, each discussed how playing a team sport is a positive when it comes to looking for a job: They have learned discipline, they are leaders, they have learned how to work as a team, and they are aggressive.

With the economy still struggling to recover, Hall said the job market has been tight. He has business experience from an internship, but he said he needs more on his resume. Being a collegiate student-athlete — with practices, games, conditioning, film-study, travel, class-time and homework — leaves scant opportunities to network.

“I feel like this is a great tool that Georgia Tech has provided for us,” Hall said. “From my experience being out there now, it’s very hard. It depends upon who you know and the work you put into it.”

Soon, more players from each of Tech’s classes and business leaders from various industries began to get together, from graduate Austin Barrick and Coca-Cola, to freshman Isaiah Johnson and PointeNorth Insurance Group.

As the attendees ate barbecue, each took a few minutes to stand up and share either what they could do, or what they were looking for.

Tom Fahey, a vice president with United Distributors, Inc., said the skills that athletes learn fit into his businesses’ core beliefs: loyalty, honesty, competitiveness and collaboration.

His goal was to swap business cards with a few players or collect some resumes and then start interviewing and possibly hiring them as summer interns later. Though some of the business reps are Tech graduates, they weren’t star-crossed fans eagerly looking to hire the first player whose hand they shook. As when the players were being recruited to Tech, the fit needs to be right.

“Hopefully they’ll feel a connection to it, a passion for it,” Fahey said.

United, which distributes various beverages and is based in Smyrna, hired three Tech football players as interns last summer. Onu Okebie, who is pursuing a career in accounting or financing, was one of those players, and he said the opportunity to work with professionals on that level so early in his career was invaluable. He is following up on contacts made from Tuesday’s event in an attempt to find another such opportunity.

Based upon contacts made at the first networking event, Osahon Tongo was able to land a summer internship with CNN’s digital marketing department last summer. They were so pleased with his performance the internship turned into a temporary job that lasted several more months. He eventually resigned to pursue a study-abroad program. A rep from CNN was back at Tuesday’s event.

Fahey said he returned because he was happy with the performance of Okebie and his teammates.

“These guys are getting life’s lessons on the field,” he said.

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