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Senior Season: Insights from proven pros

1/5/2012
NFL tight end Ben Watson advises student-athletes to speak up during the recruiting process. Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

There is something special about senior year in high school. It’s a particularly bittersweet time, the pinnacle of the high school experience meets the final year enjoying the friendships and familiarities developed over years.

For high school football players, it’s a similarly sentimental time, as it marks the final season spent under the Friday night lights. We spoke with several NFL players to discuss what makes this time in life so unique, and to share some of the lessons they’d like to impart to the Class of 2012. Our first installment featured Rams rookie defensive end Robert Quinn and the lessons he learned during a trying season. In our second edition we spoke with Cleveland Browns tight end Ben Watson. We recently profiled Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant and how he overcame a tough neighborhood and found his path to a long and rewarding football career, as well as safety George Wilson's interesting path to playing defense on the professional level. Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell talked about his journey from Denver to the desert and how he was proactive in his own recruiting process. Former Florida State standout and star linebacker for the Oakland Raiders Kamerion Wimbley discussed the transitions and sacrifices he's made in his journey to the pros.

We gathered some of the best insights and advice that the pros had to offer in this look back at the series.

Before he was chasing down Champ Bailey in epic fashion in the NFL playoffs or leading the Cleveland Browns in nearly every receiving category in 2010, tight end Ben Watson was a coveted recruit from Northwestern High (Rock Hill, S.C.).

"It's crazy to say it, but it has been over a decade since I was recruited," said Watson, whose younger brother Asa Watson is a tight end at N.C. State. "I know that the process has changed a great deal since then, but I'm also sure the same strategies and realities still apply today. My younger brother just went through the process a few years ago and with the Internet and social networking it's tougher than ever to navigate, but with a good head on your shoulders and, most importantly, a good support system at home, a set of strong priorities will lead the way.

"I started out at Duke before transferring to Georgia. And I mostly made the switch for football, but I did really enjoy my experience at Duke and trust that my decision was sound because I really went for the education and the environment, but in the end I wanted to get more out of my football career as well. I think the greatest advice would be to be really proactive in the process. It's hard to speak up and ask the tough questions that you want answered when a smooth coach is recruiting you or some older guys on the team are showing you around, but it's really about you and how you feel about the school and the program. Have a firm set of priorities and don't waver from them just because you are impressed by a visit or a call. Never forget that it's about you and your decision in this important stage of life."

Oakland's Kamerion Wimbley loves hunting quarterbacks and collapsing the pocket on a regular basis, and the Northwest (Wichita, Kan.) product believes his path the NFL was paved early by his decision to start at Florida State a semester early.

"It wasn't easy to leave the high school life," said Wimbley. "And it might not be right for everyone, but for me, I think it really set me up to prosper in college and not just on the field. I just think that adjusting to the college lifestyle is tough enough, and to combine that with practicing and playing right away is just a really big challenge for a young guy to handle. I made some sacrifices to go to school early, but I really do believe it paid off and not just because I'm in the NFL, but because I was able to make the transition into college and learn to be on my own early on."

For Arizona's Calais Campbell, prioritizing his passions outside of football has always been a part of his life.

"I made sure that I really took school seriously because the game really can be taken away from you," said Campbell, who has a serious interest in working in film and media and interned with "Funny or Die" this past summer. "Even in high school I was involved in editing videos and learning how to use new programs and technologies and my brothers and I would develop sketch comedy routines and I've just always been interested in the creative process. Some might say that you need to eat, breath and sleep football, but I don't think having interests outside of the game is a bad thing. My passion for football is very strong, but it's important to make sure that you develop some of the other interests in your life."