"There’s Not a Better Sport to Teach Life Lessons Than Football"
Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.
Al Netter didn’t play football until high school because he was too big.
"The majority of my friends did play Pop Warner," Netter said. "But I was always so much bigger, and the rules then were I would have to play with the older kids. And my mom wasn’t sure she wanted me to play with kids that much older."
But Netter's size — he would play professionally at 6-6, 310 pounds — became an asset when he started playing football at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, California — even if he needed some time to learn the ropes.
"When I started playing, technically I was a little behind," he said. "But I overcame it after a little while. I think I was able to catch up."
He said his first time on a football team was an eye-opening experience.
"I had been on teams before; I played soccer, basketball, baseball," he said. "But I saw how much more important the team is in football. Football was different in that sense."
Netter earned himself a scholarship to Northwestern University, where he started at guard for four years. After graduating, he spent three years on preseason and practice squad rosters in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans.
Though he didn't see regular season game action in his three years with the 49ers, Netter an impression on then-head coach Jim Harbaugh. When Harbaugh left San Francisco for the University of Michigan, he took Netter with him as a graduate assistant with the Wolverines.
"When I got released in San Francisco, some of the coaches said, 'When you’re finished, you should be a coach. You would be a hell of a coach,'" Netter said. "And working with that staff at Michigan really let me know that I wanted to be a coach."
In 2018, Netter became the offensive line coach and run game coordinator for Yale University.
"For me, I always liked the mentorship part of coaching," he said. "The leadership development that my coaches did for me, I always thought in the back of my head this would be pretty cool to have this kind of an impact on young men.
“I just love the sport in general. There’s not a better sport to teach life lessons than football. At the college level, you’re taking kids at their most moldable ages, 17- and 18-year-old kids who need that leadership and mentorship to become successful not just in football, but in life. That’s what I love about it."
Photo: AP/Kevin Terrell
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