ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- To stay involved with the game of football, Ebenezer Ekuban’s position in the NFL has undergone quite a change.
He was a defensive lineman for 10 seasons.
Now he’s working with the Broncos as a player development intern.
“Just climbing that ladder,” Ekuban said. “It is almost like starting over again. Sometimes you have to start off at the bottom and work your way up, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Especially when following your passion. That’s the challenge Ekuban has undertaken.
“I always knew I wanted to be in a field that impacted athletes in a positive way,” Ekuban said. “I needed some platform to be able to connect with players.”
So Ekuban began searching for that platform.
He took his first internship at Texas Christian University, where he worked in sports administration while he was a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 2002. Then in 2010, he interned in player development at the University of North Carolina – his alma mater – and this past March he completed an internship with the NFL league office.
Now, Ekuban is back in Denver -- where he spent the final four seasons of his playing career -- working as an intern for a familiar face in Director of Player Development Jerry Butler, who previously worked for the Browns when Ekuban played in Cleveland.
“I learned a lot from Jerry, who was my player development director,” Ekuban said. “When I was in Cleveland he showed me what a player development director should be. There is no better person I can learn from.”
In Butler, Ekuban sees a man he one day hopes to resemble.
“After some time and after numerous internships,” Ekuban said, “I realized that player development is where I need to be to have the most impact for what I’m trying to do.”
So what is Ekuban’s objective? What motivated an NFL retiree to take so many internships?
The answer lies with the current players that suit up each day in the Broncos locker room. Ekuban wants to help guide them. He wants to use his own mistakes as teaching moments.
“Through my playing days I experienced a lot of trials and tribulations, a lot of great things and a lot of not-so-great things,” Ekuban said. “My motivation is to give back to the players and make sure they have all the tools to succeed.”
In taking this position with the Broncos, Ekuban has gotten the chance to reconnect with some former teammates who are still playing on Sundays.
One of those former teammates is
“I could always picture him doing something like this,” Bailey said. “He's a great person for something like that."
Throughout his time as a player, Ekuban gained the respect of teammates like Bailey.
And just a few years ago it was Ekuban who was one of the guys battling through two-a-day practices, sitting through the long meetings and studying the playbook.
Ekuban says that recent experience as a player in the league gives him “instant credibility” for he understands as well as anyone what players in today’s NFL are going through on a regular basis.
“They know that what I’m telling them is from experience, not just from something I read in a book,” Ekuban explained. “I’ve actually been where they are. I’ve been demoted from first string to second string. I’ve been on injured reserve. I’ve had frustrations.
“And that’s a big benefit.”
“When you can talk to somebody who has been through some of the same obstacles,” Bailey said, “they're going to have some of the best insight on how to get through them.”
SATISFYING THE HUNGER
Retirement was hard on Ekuban, and he admits it freely.
Ekuban said he often questioned himself and his abilities once he left the game, but eventually realized there was great potential for the next chapter of his life.
He discovered a passion in player development and began the necessary steps towards a new career. He’s found a rewarding life after football and that’s an achievement he wants current players to strive for.
“I’m a living example,” Ekuban said. “If the players see me walking around here doing positive things after I’ve left the game, hopefully they’ll start to gain the mindset that, you know, once you’re done – regardless of how much money you’ve made – you're still going to be young when you retire from football.
“You have a long life to live and what are you going to do with it?”
His days as a D-lineman may be behind him, but Ekuban still has something to offer the game of football and the men who dedicate years of their lives to playing it.
The door to his office is always open – placed just a few short steps away from the locker room he used to be a part of.
“I miss playing on Sundays. I miss the locker room,” Ekuban said. “But it satisfies me knowing that I’m doing everything I can to make sure the guys don’t make the same mistakes I did.
“They are not all going to listen. I know that. But if they think about my face before making a questionable decision, then my job is done.”