By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – As the public service announcement from the NCAA tells us, almost all student-athletes will be going pro in something other than sports.
Nobody realizes that more than Cal football director of career development Ron Coccimiglio, who among other things spearheads a program in which professionals from an assortment of different industries visit the Bears to provide insights and practical advice.
Once a week during spring practice, a panel of 10 or more professionals joined the team for dinner, giving players a chance to pick the brain of someone in a desired field or learn about possible careers and internships. It’s all part of Coccimiglio and the football program’s emphasis on life after football.
“It’s great that they’re worried about what guys are doing beyond football,” Cal linebacker Hardy Nickerson said. “Football is not a lifetime deal. Getting to know what your interests are right now helps you a lot.”
With the tremendous time demands put on football players between classes, studying, practice, conditioning and more, sometimes finding the time and resources to start exploring career options can be difficult. So Coccimiglio brings the resources to them.
One recent round table had professionals from the media, marketing, accounting, banking and investment management, as well as a deputy sheriff and the CEO of a company.
“It’s such a great opportunity for all the athletes to meet somebody who has been successful in another field,” Cal quarterback Austin Hinder said. “It makes guys start to think about careers outside of football, which is really important.”
The professional round table program has helped numerous Cal football players throughout the years. Coccimiglio helped former wide receiver Sam DeSa find a temporary position in technical sales before he embarked on a summer trip. When DeSa returned, he knew technical sales was the field for him and was able to find a permanent job in the field.
“If I didn’t have that two-month job, I wouldn’t be with the company I am with today,” DeSa said. “I have a lot of gratitude for (Coccimiglio) for introducing me and helping me get my foot in the door.”
In most cases, the players aren’t just meeting area professionals. Many of them are former Cal student-athletes – a lot of them from football – and if not student-athletes, they are Cal alums. At a recent round table, Cal’s current players could talk to former student-athletes such as Wendell Hunter and Dave Barr.
“It’s great for our players because these are the guys who have walked the path before them,” Coccimiglio said. “They know now that they can get ahead of the game by getting different viewpoints, different experiences from people who have been there. A lot of these guys don’t know where to start. We’re giving them opportunities for work experience, networking opportunities, as well as the life skills that we are providing to them way before they are really on their own.”
“It’s always nice to have somebody that has gone through the same things that you’ve gone through, and they understand the process of being a student-athlete,” Hinder said. “It’s just nice to hear their stories and their background.”
Only around two percent of college football players ultimately make it to the NFL, so the need for resources post-college is obvious. Most student-athletes need to start planning for the future rather than depend on a professional football career that likely won’t materialize.
“Everybody comes in thinking they are going to be a 10-year vet in the league, but that’s not as realistic as it may seem at first,” Hinder said. “But that’s the beauty of coming to a school like Cal. As long as you get your degree and you use your resources properly through your time here and develop the network that you need, you can be really successful.”