Parker finds his calling in special education
OL Anthony Parker, whose athletic 6’6”, 300-pound frame makes it hard to hide his career as a football player, takes pride in his seven-year AFL career. However, when asked about what he does for a living, the Miami native is far more likely to share the work he does off the field. Parker works in Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy for middle school students in Fairfax County.
Parker says he’s frequently asked why, as an experienced and accomplished football player, he hasn’t spent more time coaching youth or high school football.
“My form of coaching is helping teach kids how to brush their teeth by themselves, put their pants on by themselves, communicate on their communication devices by themselves,” Parker said. “Those are the moments I celebrate. That’s my niche. That’s what gets me going and what makes me happy. I’ve been doing this for five years now. After football practice, my mindset changes – I just think about helping the kids.”
While most players’ work day ends at the conclusion of practice, Parker’s is often just beginning.
“I normally leave from practice and go straight to work,” Parker said. “Sometimes my days don’t end until 8 p.m. They’re long days, but it’s rewarding.”
Nelson’s offseason marred by house fire
During what was supposed to be a high point of Arvell Nelson’s offseason, a December trip to Florida for an end-of-season Pop Warner football tournament for his son’s team — which he coached – the
quarterback received a call that would change his family’s life instantly.
“I got a call that my house caught fire,” Nelson said. “We don’t know what happened or what caused it, but we lost nearly everything. It was devastating to get that call. We were in such a joyous moment and it turned devastating so fast.”
Nelson, a father of three boys, knew he had to serve as an example in that moment.
“My boys look at me each and every day,” Nelson said. “If I’m down, they’re down. If daddy has his head hanging, they’re going to hang their heads. I had to stand strong, take that on the chin and keep pushing because I know who’s looking at me.”
Following the fire, the Nelsons moved into a hotel until returning to D.C. prior to training camp.
helped me out a lot,” Nelson said. “Whatever I needed throughout the process; they were there. They made a devasting moment somewhat comfortable.”
The cause of the fire is still unknown and under investigation.
Gordon lays foundation for post-football physical training career
linebacker Jimmy Gordon has spent each of his offseasons in Tampa Bay, Florida, at D1 Tampa, training daily for wherever his football journey took him next. Shortly thereafter, Taylor Scott, who heads the training program at D1 Tampa, saw something in Gordon and brought him on board to help work with the facility’s fast-growing roster of clientele with professional football dreams of their own.
“We created a program called the Trench Academy, which focused mostly on offensive and defensive linemen,” Gordon said. “We work with players ranging from middle school to right out of college and preparing for combines and pro days.”
In the past three years, both D1 Tampa and Gordon have seen results – in the past few months, the facility prepped over 20 college athletes for pro days and other professional workouts and worked with current NFL players, including the Griffin twins, Shaquill and Shaquem, who both play for the Seattle Seahawks. In the process, Gordon found his calling.
“I got to a point where I knew I was going to do this after football,” Gordon said. “I was offered the position of President of Product and Performance, which is what I have been doing that last two years. The next step, probably in the upcoming offseason, is to become part-owner.”
Mackey aims to empower inner-city youth through mentorship
defensive lineman Leon Mackey, who is set to begin his third season in the AFL and his first in the nation’s capital, has left his mark on football fields all over the country. Mackey was raised in Wilmington, Delaware and attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia before enrolling at Texas Tech University. After college, Mackey spent a season with the AFL’s Arizona Rattlers before earning a roster spot with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings at a tryout in January of 2015. The journeyman has seen about every level of competitive football there is but recognizes that life after football will arrive one day, and that his years on the field have provided him a platform to make an even bigger impact off it.
Mackey has spent the last 10 years working with Stay Real Inc., an organization started by his uncle, Martin Newton, that works with inner-city youth to offer advice, education and life skills to kids who grow up without an exposure to those lessons.
“One day football is going to be over,” Mackey said. “Those are some of the things I try to teach the kids. I teach them about reading. I teach them about business. Things that aren’t necessarily common conversations amongst families, but things that are important.”
Mackey says the first time he felt compelled to get involved with the program was at Texas Tech, when he realized that many of the important life lessons children need to succeed as adults aren’t offered until college.
“When I went to Texas Tech, they had programs that teach you who to hang around and not to party so much,” Mackey said. “They teach you about taking care of your body. It was confusing to me because in high school, I had never heard that stuff.”
Mackey continues his work to this day. Just this offseason, he took the Stay Real program out West and spent time working with students at Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Arizona.