The Travel-Fly-Give Plan

TODD ROSENBERG/NFL/AP IMAGES

“I’m more than a football player.”

I’ve heard a lot of guys around the league say that. You know, that football doesn’t “define” them, or that “it’s not everything.” And this is not a knock on any of those guys at all, because I definitely understand that there’s more to life than football. It’s just that for me, at this stage in my life….

Football kind of is everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got my family, which is the most important thing in the world to me. And my community — both in Atlanta and back home in Florida — which I love. And before this year, school had always been a focus.

But aside from that, for my entire life, it’s pretty much been all football, all the time.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because ever since the Falcons drafted me in the first round back in April, people have been wanting to know more about me. Teammates, fans, reporters — pretty much everybody I’ve met. Sometimes they just want to know the basics, like what I do with my free time or what my passions are outside of football.

But a lot of people ask me about my future. What my goals and dreams are for the rest of my life and stuff. It’s like they know who Calvin Ridley the football player is, but they want to get to know Calvin Ridley the person — who I am off the field.

I don’t really know who I am yet.

I know I’m a family man. I know that I’m very community-oriented, especially when it comes to the people back in Lincoln Park, Florida — the community that helped raise me. And I know I’m blessed to have been able to use the game that I love as a way to provide for my family and grow and give myself a platform.

It’s just that for me, at this stage in my life …. Football kind of is everything.

But everything else?

I’m still kind of figuring that out.

So I’ve been thinking about it more and more — you know, about myself … about the future.

I never had a bucket list or anything like that. So I’m gonna use this opportunity to make one right here with you guys. A mini one — just a little something to get myself started and get my brain going on it.

But first, I want to tell you a little bit more about where I’m from.

I grew up in the Lincoln Park area of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And to be honest, it was a pretty rough neighborhood. There was a lot of violence. A lot of drugs. You know the kind of neighborhood I’m talking about. I mean, it’s my home. It’s where I’m from. And I have a lot of love for my community. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it weren’t for the people there. It’s just that at times, it was … tough.

But, for a kid like me, growing up there was also a lot of fun.

There were kids everywhere, at all times. All you had to do was walk outside your house, and you’d find some kids to play with. Most of the time, they were playing football or basketball. It didn’t matter what time of day you went out there. Long as the street lights weren’t on yet, you could always find a game.

So as far back as I can remember, I’ve been playing sports — especially football — every chance I got.

One thing about me is that there were a few years in my childhood when my mom put me and my brothers in foster care. I was nervous at first, but it turned out to be a great thing for me and my family. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough — I was separated from my brothers for a while, and not having my mom around as much as I wanted was hard. But I met some cool people and learned a lot throughout the entire process.

Calvin Ridley (2)

In foster care is actually where I learned the game of football — like, real football. You know, with the pads on.

It was the people at the SOS Children’s Village — the foster community where I was staying — who signed me up. My family had never been able to afford for me to play organized football, but SOS gave me that opportunity. So I can honestly say that without foster care, I don’t think I would be where I am today. I don’t think I would have played football, or gone to Alabama, or made it to the NFL.

That’s why to this day, the people there are still family to me.

I remember they used to have NFL players come in and visit the youth football teams. Guys like Ronnie Brown and Channing Crowder from the Dolphins would come talk, hang out and do drills with us.

In foster care is actually where I learned the game of football — like, real football. You know, with the pads on.

Years later, when I was at Alabama and I started thinking that the NFL was a real possibility for me, I definitely looked back on those visits and remembered the impact it made on us kids and the hope it gave us that there was something bigger outside of our neighborhood.

And I told myself that if I ever did make it to the NFL and I got the opportunity to be that guy going back into the community and giving kids some guidance and hope, I would definitely do it.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

So if we’re talking bucket list, I think the one thing at the absolute top would be starting a foundation to work with foster kids in my community down in Florida. I would love to work with kids in the community as a whole, but focusing on those foster kids would be really important to me because that was such a big part of my childhood experience. And after foster care, I was blessed enough to have my mother in my life to be a mentor to me, along with a lot of coaches and teachers along the way. I know there were a lot of other foster kids I grew up around who didn’t have that.

So I would love to be a mentor. Like a big brother — someone those kids can look up to when they’re going through something.

Because I know some of those kids go through a lot.

I’d also like to mentor kids through the game of football. I could see myself working with high-schoolers and being a football coach one day. Maybe I could be an offensive coordinator. I think I could call a good game. I’d run one of those high-flying offenses where we throw like all the time. I think that would be a fun way for me to connect with some kids and make a real impact.

So we can put coaching on the list, too

Let’s see … what else?

Oh, man — I remember one time when I was in high school and my teacher was talking to us about Dubai for some reason. I was looking at the pictures in our textbook, and they were beautiful. I remember thinking about how different everything looked and how far away it was — pretty much the other side of the world, right? Which, to a kid like me who had never been outside of Florida, was crazy.

I didn’t think about it right then, but later on, when I realized that I was actually going to make it to the NFL and one day have the means to travel and explore new places, I remembered that textbook, and I thought about how cool it would be to take my family to Dubai one day and just experience something new and different like that.

Something most people from my neighborhood would never get the chance to do.

So visiting Dubai is definitely on my bucket list.

That, and Jamaica. Because anybody who knows me knows that when I’m not playing football or working out, I really don’t do much. I just kind of chill. So I could definitely see myself hanging out on a beach in Jamaica, or out in the clear water, doing absolutely nothing.


So I guess my little bucket list looks like—

Actually, I’m gonna add one more thing.

Base jumping.

That’s something I would love to do. Everyone thinks I won’t do it, and I definitely imagine it would be scary, but I’m into wild stuff like that. And I’d wanna see everything. I’ll keep my eyes open the whole way down, and just ride.

I just wanna live my life to the fullest, and I think base jumping would be an amazing experience.

O.K., so if we add that in, here’s what I have right now for my bucket list:

  • Start a foundation
  • Coach high school football
  • Go to Dubai
  • Relax on a beach in Jamaica
  • Go base jumping

I just wanna live my life to the fullest, and I think base jumping would be an amazing experience.

That’s a good start, right? I think it really hits the three main things that I want to do most once I’m done playing football.

Travel, fly and give.

Honestly, I could get started on this bucket list right away — I for sure won’t be base jumping any time soon (I don’t think the Falcons or my agent would like that), and I’m so focused on football right now that I don’t see myself traveling much in the near future. But that’s O.K. I don’t mind waiting. I have no problem just living and breathing football for as long as my NFL career lasts, because you never know when it will come to an end, and I really want to soak it all in.

But one thing I’ll definitely get started on while I’m still playing is my foundation. That’s something I want to do as soon as possible because, aside from football, that’s the thing I’m most excited about.

Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel

So I guess that’s it, right? We did it! I got a little bucket list thing going on, and I feel pretty good about it.

To be honest, it was a little weird to think about all these things that are not football. I mean, some of this stuff has been in the back of my mind for a long time, and it’s pretty cool to get it all out in the open. But, at the end of the day, football does define me, in a lot of ways. Many of the blessings I have and will have in my life are because of football. So I’m never going to stop giving back to the game or to the community so that other kids can experience the same things I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, whether it’s through football or something else.

I do think it’s possible to be all football, all the time — like I am — but still be “more than a football player” and focus on the long term. And I guess that’s what I’m going for: being the best football player I can possibly be and contribute to a Super Bowl-caliber team, but also give back and set myself up to live the life I’ve always wanted for myself and my family when I’m done playing.

Yeah. That’s the plan, and I’m sticking to it.

See you in Dubai.

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