Set goals, work hard to achieve them, believe in yourself: They are lessons any parent, any teacher, any coach will try to instill in a child, a student or a young athlete. But somehow to an auditorium full of middle school or high school students, the words carry just a little more weight when they come from a former Denver Broncos player.
Tell an audience of kids and young adults, “I know Peyton Manning,” and you’ll have their attention.
That was the case Wednesday as former Broncos fullback Reggie Rivers spoke to the student bodies of Summit High School and Summit Middle School for close to an hour each.
Assistant principal Jim Smith arranged for the former pro to be a keynote speaker as part of the high school’s homecoming week.
“I thought it was great,” Smith told the Daily after the presentation. “It’s great to hear such a positive message from a well-known entity.”
Rivers spoke at the middle school prior to presenting at the high school.
While most of his audience was either unborn or less than a year old when Rivers last took to a football field with John Elway under center, they sat captivated by the engaging public speaker.
“I have to apologize to this young lady,” he said to open his talk at the middle school, as he looked toward a student in one of the front rows. “I’m not John Elway.”
The 6-foot-1 African-American told the audience that was what he’d said when she asked who he was.
Rivers, now a writer, broadcaster and motivational speaker, went on to entertain his audience with a story about the first girl he ever asked out in the seventh grade. He said it took eight times asking before she said yes. It was his change in self-confidence that won her over, and some solid dance moves.
But, as with most middle school loves, a few weeks later she dumped the young Rivers with a note that included a smiley face.
Still, the story tied perfectly to his overall message. Be confident and work hard, don’t give up.
“It doesn’t matter how much ability you start with, it’s how hard you work,” Rivers told both audiences. “I made the team because I was sprinting and they were jogging,” he said of his NFL days.
He went on to describe how most people jog through life and that hard work will always win out.
“You don’t have to be a world-class anything to beat most of your competition in life.”
With that approach success will come, and luck has little to do with it. “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
After his talk he opened up to questions.
“Did you win a Super Bowl?” one brave middle school student asked.
“No, I didn’t win a Super Bowl, thanks for bringing that up,” the six-year pro said with a smile. Adding without any hint of regret that he was cut the season the Broncos won back-to-back championships.
“Did you know Tim Tebow?”
“Do you still hang out with Peyton Manning?”
While the questions may not have been the most insightful, the students all walked away with Rivers’ message, one he himself learned from a coach.
“It’s not the physical gifts you’re born with, but the work ethic you apply to maximize the tools.”