Former Super Bowl champion speaks to Buckeye students

ROUSING OVATION — Former NFL player Lee Rouson speaks to students at Buckeye Local High School on Wednesday. -- Andrew Grimm

CONNORVILLE — Back when Lee Rouson was on his way to a seven-year NFL career that saw him be a part of two Super Bowl championship teams with the New York Giants in 1987 and 1990, he had a lot of people who were positive influences and role models to him.

When that career was cut short due to an ankle injury during the 1991 season when he was a member of Cleveland Browns, Rouson knew he wanted to give back to the next generation and be the type of positive influence to others that so many were to him.

“I wanted to be an inspirational speaker, a mentor, a positive role model because many people were that to me,” Rouson said. “Growing up, I had, not pro football players, but individuals in the community who were positive role models and mentors. And if it wasn’t for their advice, their love, their inspiration, I could have been like so many other people that gave up on their dreams.

“I heard the call to be that positive role model. I chose to appreciate the help and was very grateful because life is hard. Because people cared about me I was able to do something in my life.”

That mission brought him to the Buckeye Local High School auditorium Wednesday morning, where he addressed the junior high and high school students at separate times with a wide-ranging, inspirational message in an OVAC-sponsored Sports World Inc. presentation.

While it was his first trip to Panther country, it was not his first trip to the Ohio Valley, which he said has become his favorite area to visit during his around 10 speeches a year.

“I love coming here,” Rouson said. “This is my favorite place to come in America. People give me respect here, they listen and engage you. The people here are hungry for life.”

Some of the points of emphasis during his comments were not allowing things to hold one back from their dreams, continuing to move the chains and finding out who one is with a delivery mixed with a lot of humor and seriousness.

Now 55 and residing in New Jersey, Rouson shared what it was like to be a highly recruited high school athlete in Greensboro, N.C., where he grew up, and making his choice to play football for the University of Colorado, only to find out the program was going to fall under NCAA probation his first three seasons.

That caused some of his teammates to quit, but he did not, eventually getting drafted by the Giants in the eighth round (213th overall) in the 1985 NFL draft. He became the 1986 NFL Special Teams Player of the Year and earned a pair of championship rings.

“When the zeros came on the clock and the scoreboard said Giants 39, Broncos 20, that was the moment that I realized that because I never gave up I am a Super Bowl champion,” he said.

He shared memories of playing with Phil Simms, an interaction he had with legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice during his college days and getting to play for Bill Belichik, who was the head coach in Cleveland during his time there. He even shared a few quotes from the iconic now-New England Patriots head coach.

“He was awesome to play for,” Rouson said. “He’s not what people think they know about him. He is amazing, and the life lessons that he teaches last forever. It’s not all about football with him like people think it is. It’s about winning and getting the job done, and that is life. Football is just one way to do that.”

Of all the places he played during his career, he said Cleveland was his favorite. When an ankle tendon injury forced his stint with the Browns to end after just three games and his playing career to be cut short during his seventh season, despite the disappointment he felt a new purpose calling him, that experience is something he draws back on to help others going through adversities now.

“In Cleveland, I was a starter. I had finally achieved my goal of being a part of the starting lineup,” he said. “I was in the backfield with Kevin Mack and Bernie Kosar. Belichik was our coach; he believed in my ability and he gave me a chance. It was very disappointing (that it ended so quickly.) I had to move forward. It was time for me to move on with my life, that’s how I look at it.”

Rouson recently finished his master’s degree and is in the process of designing his own business.