Donovin Darius currently serves the NFL Legends Community as Director of the Southeast Region. He played 10 seasons in the NFL as a safety for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.
As you started to contemplate your decision to retire, what were some of the thoughts that went through your head?
Three years before I retired I started to have an inner desire to do something beyond just the game. I knew the game was a platform, it was a period of time and it was for a purpose. I also knew there was going to be time afterward, so I went back to college and got my MBA. In 2006, while I was going back to school and playing for the Jaguars, I broke my leg in one of the games. That moment gave me permission to realize, ‘you know what, it is time to transition.’
For most guys, they don’t know when they want to retire or when they want to transition. They have to give themselves permission to do it. Being injured and already going through the thought process of doing something next gave me the opportunity to say, ‘I know I am at the end of my career and this chapter, and now I can start embarking on whatever the next chapter is.’
"For most guys, they don’t know when they want to retire or when they want to transition. They have to give themselves permission to do it."
What was your support network like and who did you turn to for answers?
At that time, there weren't many resources out there that could help me directly with transition. I relied on my family and some of the friends I had who were recently retired. I was able to reach out to individuals like Bahati VanPelt, the director of Player Engagement for the Jaguars, if I needed specific support locally, both of us being in Jacksonville at the time.
It really felt like back then you were doing it yourself, that's why I'm really excited about the things The Trust is doing, as well as the things the NFL Transition Coaches are doing. These groups are able to reach out and help guys navigate transition.
"It really felt like back then you were doing it yourself."
Looking back on your transition from the NFL, what would you do differently, knowing what you know now?
What I know now is they have programs you can be a part of.
One of the key moments for me during my transition was when I attended a career transition program in Atlanta a couple of years after I finished playing the game. It was a program all focused around the transition, filled with about 70 other players. It was an opportunity to really discover and evaluate what it is you want to do in this next stage of your life and then create a plan for it.
I remember going through the program and right after I met Leonard Wheeler, who was already in that state and doing some of those things talked about in the program. One of the defining moments for me during my transition was going through the transition program, but then also meeting someone like Leonard, who was a life coach and already had walked out the steps I was walking. He was able to support me, hold me accountable, and talk things out with me in a season and in an area where there wasn’t much familiarity.
"We celebrate the guys, we embrace them, and then we support them and get them connected to whatever is out there."
How does the NFL Legends Community provide a support network for all Legends?
The Legends Community is an overarching umbrella with its whole focus on helping guys navigate through all the resources and programs out there. We celebrate the guys, we embrace them, and then we support them and get them connected to whatever is out there.
I equate The Legends Community for a retired guy to what the Player Engagement Director is on the team level. When guys are playing and active, anything they need off the field, any direction and connection they need, they go to the Player Engagement Director on the team to get that navigation. When guys retire, they don't necessarily have a specific team or person to go to.
That’s where The Legends Community comes in. We help them understand the resources, networks, and groups here to serve former players. Our role within the Legends Community is to get them connected to whomever or whatever they need at that phase in their life.
"I equate The Legends Community for a retired guy to what the Player Engagement Director is on the team level."
What does your position involve as Director of the Southeast Region?
My role is to connect with the 6 teams in the southeast region, the Atlanta Falcons, the Tennessee Titans, the Carolina Panthers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Miami Dolphins. I have three guys who are my coordinators that work with me, Mark Brunell, Warrick Dunn, and Mike Rucker. We work with the team directors who work directly with their former players, (Legends) and we support them in any way we can.
That’s everything that comes with it, like their homecoming, programs, resources, whatever it may be. The other component is to work with anyone who is living in the regional area, whether they play in these areas or not. We get to them as part of a community and get them support. We get them connected to other former players, teammates and their competitors, so they feel like there is a brotherhood. We are a family no matter who they played for or where they live.
"We get them connected to other former players, teammates and their competitors, so they feel like there is a brotherhood. We are a family no matter who they played for or where they live."
What made you want to get involved with The Legends?
One of the first things I was a part of was the NFL Transition Coaches and I believe that started it. The NFL reached out to me through Troy Vincent's leadership when he was in charge of Player Engagement. They had ten guys come in and our role was to build relationships with guys. They trained us and had organizations come in and develop us in four areas: life transition skills, relationship management skills, mental health first aid, and applied suicide intervention skills training.
The whole purpose of the transition coaches is that we can be responsive, and we could engage guys when they're going through different challenges in their lives. I was doing that first and then about a year later the NFL reached out to me again and said, ‘Hey, we are putting together this overarching program, a community to celebrate, connect and embrace the players, and we would like you to be a part of it.’ I’m able to work with like-minded former players who have a heart to serve.
‘Hey, we are putting together this overarching program, a community to celebrate, connect and embrace the players, and we would like you to be a part of it.’