LDRSHIP. An acronym, derived from the word “leadership”, used by the Wisconsin National Guard that stands for: loyalty, duty, respect, sacrifice, honor, integrity and personal service.

Those were the values conveyed at the first Annual NFL High School Player Development Leadership Program hosted at Lambeau Field on July 19, 2012. While LDRSHIP defines Wisconsin National Guard soldiers, those same qualities are the makeup of great NFL football players, Master Sargent Jeremy Martinson said to those in attendance.

That’s why 54 high school athletes from across Wisconsin gathered to listen to Packers Hall-of-Famer Johnnie Gray and NFL alumni and current Vice President of Player Engagement Troy Vincent as they spoke about non-athletic-related essentials to succeeding in the NFL.

“It’s never been just about football,” Vincent said. “It’s so much more than that. It’s academics, it’s leadership and it’s accountability. There is so much more than athletic ability that factors into having great success in the NFL and in life.”

Those other factors were on display as athletes, hand selected to attend the session by their coaches, participated in a community service project and completed National Guard leadership and teamwork activities during the day.

The students stuffed bags with school supplies and other essentials and packed them into boxes to be given to various organizations that work with elementary school-aged children, including the Outagamie County Mentoring Program, the Salvation Army in Marinette, the Sheboygan County Boys and Girls Club, the Fond du Lac School District and the Boys and Girls Club of Green Bay.

After that, they went outside with National Guard members to refine their teamwork and leadership abilities through a series of leadership exercises used by the National Guard for their own training purposes.

“My favorite part of the day was definitely listening to Troy Vincent,” Southwest High School student Matt McMahon said. “It was cool to hear someone like him talk about the things he did outside of football in order to succeed.”

McMahon and fellow Southwest students Nathan Paup, Andre Kedzierski and Jake Gorzek serve on Southwest’s Athletic Leadership Council, a group of students and coaches who meet once a week to discuss strategies to eliminate drug and alcohol usage among athletes and maintain the image of the high school’s athletic program.

“Image is the most important factor to success,” Kedzierski said. “A lot of teams won’t sign a player who has behavior problems, so the way that people perceive you can become one of the most important things.”

Vincent also discussed the world of social media and how it is being used by athletes in the NFL. He gave guidelines to the students and touched on proper and improper uses of sites like Facebook and Twitter, some of which came as a surprise to students.

“We didn’t think our team had any issues with social media until Troy pointed some stuff out,” McMahon said. “I think we need to make sure that we are all being more careful of what we are saying online because it affects how people picture us and picture our team.”

While community service, leadership and image were stressed during the program, the message was clearly centered on academic performance. Gray addressed students on the importance of attending college and completing a degree during the program’s welcome ceremony.

“Athletic ability can get you a long way, but athletic ability alone cannot get you into the NFL,” Gray said. “People think it can, but they forget that great draft prospects come from college football teams. And to get into college, you need to make good grades in high school. It all starts here (in high school).”

When asked by a student how he prepared for the NFL at an early age, Gray replied, “Worry about what you are doing in school first and the athletics will come.”

An important message, indeed, for success in sports and in life.

For a gallery of pictures from the leadership program, click here.