Former NFL defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron last year did the improbable: He turned down a contract to play in the National Football League, spurning an offer from the Detroit Lions.
Instead, Cameron began work at Deloitte, the audit, tax, risk management and financial-advising company in Washington, D.C. He also launched a Web site called www.BonfireImpact.com, which aggregates news about non-profits, social causes and lifestyles.
The 24-year-old, who lost 65 pounds off his 315-pound frame after leaving the NFL, said he had worried about making the rosters of NFL teams and feared being cut with a moment’s notice.
“Football was not necessarily worrying about me,” he noted.
“I can’t do football for 20 to 30 years, but I can work for 20 to 30 years. I jumped into consulting. I had options and could exercise those options,” Cameron, who has an MBA, told about 50 listeners at a South by Southwest Venture 2 Vegas (V2V) a start-up and entrepreneur conference being held this week at The Cosmopolitan. More than 1,000 participants attended the four-day conference put on by Austin, Texas-based South by Southwest.
The former undrafted free agent who made the Cleveland Browns roster was joined by the NFL’s Acho brothers — 25-year-old Sam, an Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker, and 23-year-old Emmanuel, a Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker. The Achos played football at the University of Texas in Austin — home of South by Southwest, which puts on music, film, art and entreprenuer festivals and conferences.
Both Achos are working on graduate degrees but soon will focus on the rigors of summer training camp.
The trio spoke on the topic, “Betting on Yourself: An NFL Look at Risk Taking.” All compared playing in the NFL to the high-risk, high-reward life of entrepreneurship and launching a start-up.
“It’s a risky environment with high rewards. It’s truly gambling on yourself,” Cameron told the budding entrepreneurs and start-up artists.
Emmanuel Acho put it this way, “You don’t realize how many overlaps there are between start-ups and playing in the NFL. You have to be a dreamer.”
His brother Sam said he is entering the crucial fourth year of a four-year contract, so his focus will be performance and sacking the quarterback from his outside linebacker position. Sam Acho broke his leg last season, so he had time to pursue things like building a hospital in Nigeria and creating a mantra for life: “Let’s Freakin’ Go.” He knows the average NFL career is 3.1 years, so this upcoming season with the Cardinals will be pivotal.
The Achos plan to buck the odds after their NFL careers are done. A number surfaced several times during Tuesday’s discussion — 78 percent of former NFL players are either bankrupt, divorced or depressed two years after leaving the NFL. Combine that with the fact that the majority of the 500,000 annual start-ups fail, and those are steep business odds facing former NFL players.
But Emmanuel Acho said he is motivated by those odds.
“I love beating the odds,” he said.”There’s something in me that drives me to beat those odds. It’s the same thing with being an entrepreneur.”
Brother Sam added, “Don’t let the setback hold you back. Don’t let anything hold you back … You’re betting on yourself. You’re betting on your ideas. You’re betting on your passion.”
Contact reporter Alan Snel at email@example.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.