Football, like life, rarely goes as scripted.
Coaches and players spend a whole week preparing themselves for an opponent, studying tendencies and game-planning a strategy that is likely to succeed.
But the game is ultimately won, not by the team that stubbornly sticks to Plan A, but the team that can make adjustments fall back on Plans B, C and D.
That's football and that's life. That's the message that members of the Washington Redskins and the Charitable Foundation delivered at Tuesday's '4th And Life' high school football forum at FedExField.
Nearly 500 student-athletes packed the pavilion outside of the club level of the stadium, representing schools from Washington, D.C., Loudoun County, Prince George's County, Morgan County, W.V. and more.
The 4th And Life program, presented by Coca-Cola, focuses on preparing students for life after football by allowing high school athletes to hear what it takes to be successful both as a football player and as a person directly from professional athletes.
Emcee Rick 'Doc' Walker and panelists
Lesson No. 1 was learning to listen when people hand out advice, as taught by Doc Walker.
"A man that can learn is a man that can succeed; it's all about knowledge," he explained. "I'm not talking about playing in the NFL: maybe some of you will, some of you won't. That's not why I'm here. I'm here for the people that have found a means to support themselves through their education.
"Some of you may have the skills of Josh [Morgan] and Josh [Wilson], Alfred [Morris] and DY (Young). But for those of you who don't, and your life goes in another direction, I don't want you to be stuck on stupid. I don't want you to be incarcerated somewhere because you've got a big mouth and you couldn't listen."
From there, the panel moved into a series of topics that centered around the challenges they overcame to succeed on the football field and in life.
Young was an undrafted linebacker, cut twice in a three-week span and working at Finish Line. Realizing that his dreams were unfulfilled, he vowed to make it back to the NFL.
As a reminder, he still works at Finish Line two days a week in the offseason.
"I know what it's like to be on the outside looking in," he said. "You've got to make the best of your opportunities. You've got to have a plan, because anything without a plan is just noise.
"If you're going to do it, do it. Be about it, have fun. Enjoy the experience, but work hard at what you do.
In addition to holding an offseason job, Young is currently in year two of studying for his master's degree after graduating as a double major with a 3.2 undergrad GPA.
Morris was taken in the sixth round out of a small program at Florida Atlantic University and started his career at the bottom of the Redskins depth chart. Through injury and opportunity, Morris started Week 1 his rookie year.
He rushed for more yards in his first season than anyone had in the franchise's 81-year history.
For him, it has always been a matter of hardwork and pure, unadulterated optimism.
"There's enough negative going on in this world, and I always said I was going to be 'one less,' one positive thing that people can look up to," he said. "People think football players are this or that negative, but I want to be one less.
"That started with academics, where I wanted to be one less dumb jock that played football. People will count you out, but I was always at the top of my classes, always a straight-A student.
"I always took pride in my work and I always wanted to be more than just an athlete."
Morgan had hoop dreams growing up and never could have imagined he would end up in the NFL. Working 12 hours per day, seven days a week at his craft, Morgan has managed to arrive and thrive in the NFL.
Now he plays for the team he cheered for as a child in Southeast Washington, D.C., growing up just blocks from historic RFK Stadium.
"I wasn't really a football player, I was just an athlete that got lucky enough to make it," he said. "I'm here today because I didn't have anybody do it for me. If more people had talked to us as kids, a lot more of my friends and brothers would have been uplifted."
Wilson has 13 career interceptions, eight forced fumbles and four defensive touchdowns in seven NFL seasons. But football is just a means for an end for him; a much more impactful end that could provide meaningful change in his native P.G. County.
"I play football because it gives me the means to do what I was put here to do. My life is bigger than football," he said. "I want to run a business and do something to give back to the kids in Prince George's County, to make sure they have the education that every other county in this area has.
"I'm already thinking about that. I was put here to make a difference, and I have the opportunity, I have the relationships and the finances to be able to get through and change kids' lives.
"I have people that look up to me that I need to make a difference in their lives. Being just a football player isn't going to do it."Coca-Cola was a proud presenting sponsor of today's event, and Michael Golder, Vice President for Sales, Maryland Market Unit, praised the program's impact.
"In schools across our community, participating in athletic programs is one of the best ways young people can be active," he said. "Through sports, scholar-athletes learn lessons about principles – commitment, teamwork, preparation, etc. – that they can apply in everyday life.
"The 4th & Life program highlights these lessons in a very real and powerful way through the voices of professional athletes."