NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson spoke to 300 eighth-graders from Northridge Middle School Thursday on the importance of perseverance in the face of nay-sayers.
“People like to discourage you,” Dickerson said to the children. “You want to encourage people.”
Dickerson, who played much of his career with the Los Angeles Rams, and is now the vice president of business development for the Rams, spoke about his upbringing in the small town of Sealy, Texas. Along his path to superstardom, he says he encountered many people who told him he’d never make it.
“You’re not big enough, you’re not tall enough,” Dickerson recalls people from his hometown saying when he decided he wanted to play football. “No one wants to hear those words. Like I said, I’m not being encouraged, I’m being discouraged. You can’t listen to that.”
After his speech, Dickerson answered students’ questions, which ranged from his favorite football play to his favorite video game.
“I play Splinter Cell and God of War,” Dickerson said with a smile.
Dickerson has been making the rounds in the San Fernando Valley, speaking to students at Van Nuys Elementary School earlier this month. Northridge Middle School Principal Richard Ramos was glad to host Dickerson.
“The story that he tells, the ‘encouragement not discouragement,’ I think that’s important,” Ramos said. “Especially for a community like ours, that sometimes has obstacles that they need to overcome. And to hear it from somebody that heard that and saw that, I think it’s significant. Some kids were already telling me, ‘I’m going to be a football player!’ and I went right at them and I said ‘yeah, you are.’ His words definitely resonated with me.”
Dickerson hopes to be a positive influence on these children.
“For me, I just like giving back to them,” Dickerson said. “They’re young, they’re just starting their lives off. When you look at these kids, somebody in that group will do something great, and somebody in that group will do something bad. That’s just the facts. But you hope that you touch one person’s life.”
Dickerson says his desire to encourage kids stems from his own upbringing. He was adopted by his great-great aunt, Viola Dickerson. He is also a founder of “Young Warriors,” a mentoring program that partners adults with boys ages 8 to 18 who are growing up without a positive male influence in their lives.
“A lot of kids feel like they’re not wanted,” Dickerson said. “I just want them to feel like people care about them. We care. You might not get it at home. Sometimes you get it at school. Sometimes you get it from a stranger. I’m a total stranger to these kids. I just want them to always be encouraged.”