Dear New Signees,

I want to first and foremost congratulate you on being one of the rare individuals who has earned the opportunity to play your sport beyond the high school level. Only you, your families, and God know how much hard work you put forth in order to reach this level. I know it wasn’t easy at all.

The path to signing day is filled with obstacles and circumstances, all of which you have had to overcome. Signing your name along that dotted line is a victory — a culmination of the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice that have characterized the first 18 years of your life. You have won an important battle, but not yet the war.

Every year as I watch a new group of young men achieve their dreams, I am reminded of the day when I signed to play at the University of Georgia. It was 2007 and presented before me was the opportunity to live out my childhood dream. There is no better feeling than making your family, your community and everyone who has helped you along the way proud. My hope is that you can continue to have even more of these moments in the future.

After a rewarding career at the University of Georgia, I decided to pursue my career in the National Football League following my junior season in 2010. I was 21 years young at the time. Today, I am 27 and I am in my sixth year of continuing to live my dream. I have been coming back to school during the spring when I’m not playing football in order to keep working towards my Business Management and Music Business degree. Every time I return to Athens, a new group of young men are clad in red and black. Although their faces are new and their names unfamiliar, there is a shared hope and dream that unites us across time. In them, I see myself. It is my hope that by writing this honest and genuine letter I can reach more than just the players at the University of Georgia, but players all across the nation.

Timing is everything and I feel like this letter had to be written now. Over the last six years, I have been witness to far too many young men who have been blindsided by the realities of playing college football. All too often I have seen men depart from their campuses with nothing to show for it but a battered body and broken dreams. Unfortunately, the mainstream media chooses to only focus on the few players that make it pro. Every year shows like “Path to the Draft” share stories of the very small percentage of players who have the chance to play at the next level. I wish these same media outlets would do a “Path to the Real World” documentary that shows the true reality of what the other 90 percent of players from each recruiting class who don’t make it go through as they walk off the football field for the last time. When the majority of your college experience has been spent on the field, in the weight room and in the film room, this transition can be a nightmare unless you are a step ahead of the game.

I understand that you all probably have no clue what to expect as you prepare to be on campus. However, I believe if you can try to understand some of the advice from this letter it will better your chances at maximizing your opportunity and will give you a few tools you can use to set yourself up for the future, whether you make it pro or not. Here are five things I believe you must understand as you start this new chapter.Rennie Curran on his own National Signing Day, when he officially committed to play football at the University of Georgia.

1. This is a BUSINESS

You are no longer just an athlete who is playing a game just for fun. You may be labeled as a student-athlete, but in reality this term is far from the truth. You are now part of a corporate business with the purpose of providing a winning product. Unless you understand this, you will never truly be able to have the right perspective on your position and what you need to do to capitalize on it.

People may say that you have been GIVEN a free education, but you will quickly learn during your 12-hour days that your scholarship will be EARNED and there is nothing free about it.

There are now men and women whose jobs depend on your performance. There are ticket sales, merchandise, hotels, restaurants, television networks, people who run parking lots and even those who post their homes for rent on Saturdays whose production will increase or decrease based solely off how many games you win. Even the bowl games are a way to create opportunities for major brands to partner with different collegiate teams and their fan base in order to increase brand influence.

Every time your team plays there will be companies who pay top dollar in order to get corporate suites just to watch you play. It is one of the greatest business models in the world, all centered on players who play for the love of the game instead of monetary compensation.

This is in no way intended to make you feel used or exploited, but you must understand this reality. If you don’t take advantage of every resource available to you, then you risk putting yourself in a position to be taken advantage of for the next four years of your life.

2. Don’t believe the hype

The worst thing you can do as you take this next step is to believe in the rankings, the praise and all the flattery that comes along with the recruiting process. Nothing you did in high school matters from now on, and you are only as important as the plays you make in your next game.

Understand that all of your new teammates were highly ranked/recruited players and could care less about your statistics or what all-star game you played in. Next year around this same time there will be another group of guys who are highly ranked coming in to take your position.

It is a never-ending cycle. It is important that you humble yourself, embrace the process, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I know there were things in high school that you could do naturally because of talent, but on the collegiate level, especially in certain conferences like the SEC, you will have to commit yourself to perfecting your craft.

Stay hungry and stay humble no matter what. No matter how much fame you attain, understand that you are always one play away from being done. Enjoy the game, but don’t ever get to the point where you start to believe you are better than others because of your abilities. Fans will admire you, but understand that the majority of people will only like you because of what you can do on the field, not because of who you are.

3. Everything you do matters

Understand that EVERYTHING you do — your performance on the football field, obviously, your performance in the classroom, the way you treat people, the posts you put up on social media — everything matters. It’s easy to think that just because you are young that you will get a free pass, but you are now in a position that a lot of people wish they could be in.

Many people believe that you don’t even deserve to be on campus and that you are a waste of educational dollars, even though most of your scholarships are covered by individuals who donate to the athletics program. Since you could be viewed as privileged, most people may not have sympathy for your shortcomings and mistakes.

If you have the rare and fortunate opportunity to make it to the NFL, understand that the general managers, player personnel and anyone who has anything to do with potentially drafting you will do thorough background checks on you that you will have to answer for. They will not only want to know about who you are as a player, but as a person. They will talk to your coaches, academic staff and many of the people you work with day to day. Unless you work with individuals with no integrity, they will always give the honest truth about you.

I can’t stress to you enough the importance of doing things the right way. It will pay off. Even if you don’t agree with the way everything is handled throughout the course of your college career, do everything you can to make decisions that you can be proud of when you look back years from now.

4. You are a brand

Although you no longer own your likeness by virtue of signing your scholarship, you are no different than any company or product. The on and off the field reputation that you build in the next four years will either hurt you or help you for the rest of your life.

You will be given opportunities or be passed up for someone else based on what is said when your name comes up. Every play that you put on film and every interaction you have with someone is building your resume. Even your interviews with media are crucial. This allows the public to form a perception of you.

Every time you open your mouth, you indirectly let the world know who you are. The worst thing you can do is to have a major interview opportunity and not be able to articulate your thoughts. You must understand that the fans and others watching you are not just random people. The thousands who will be watching you play every weekend may possibly one day be your future clients if you end up owning a business 10 years from now, or even future employers if you happen to need a new job one day.

You must make sure that your overall presentation aligns with where you eventually want to be in the long run. The way you dress, your social media presence and the way you speak — everything about you should represent class. Understand that you no longer just represent yourself. You now represent your family, your community, your university and everyone who has helped you along the way.

PROTECT YOUR BRAND AT ALL COSTS. Make sure that when you leave the university and your name comes up that people can only say good things about you — not just as an athlete, but most of all as a person.

5. This is an opportunity, not a career

These next four years of your life are going to FLY by. It may seem like four years are forever, but in the grand scheme of your life, this is nothing.

I used to hear the facts and statistics about the average lifespan of a professional athlete being three to four years and I was always in disbelief. Many years later, I can truly say that those statistics are true.

The truth is that no matter how many plays you make, games you win or awards you receive, you will eventually have to move on from being an athlete. If you are a guy who is nothing but an athlete, then you will be in for a shock when the day comes for you to take the pads off for the last time.

Like many guys I have seen in the past, you will feel completely lost and have a tough time transitioning into the real world. Because this is an opportunity, you must take advantage of every resource you can while you are on campus and have the name recognition.

You must learn to leverage your platform as an athlete by networking and building relationships for the future. It’s important that you surround yourself with different groups of people who can expose you to other careers and opportunities. While you are wearing that jersey, there are CEOs of companies, donors, alumni and many professors who will be glad to help you establish yourself for the future. You must have the mindset that you will be successful whether you have the opportunity to play professionally or not.

There is nothing in this world you can’t accomplish. As a competitive athlete you already have what it takes to thrive in any industry if you apply yourself and focus on the same principles that have helped you excel on the field — hard work, grit, perseverance, discipline, the desire to prove yourself, resilience, persistence and consistency. These are all attributes that corporate companies look for in the employees they hire.

The experiences you have as a collegiate athlete in these next four years will help you in the next phase of life, no matter what you choose to do, if you can understand the transferrable skills that are aligned with what you are currently doing.

As challenging as this next chapter is, don’t forget to have fun and embrace your journey. You have the opportunity to create memories and have experiences that many people will never have. Always make sure that your sport is something you do, not who you are. I hope that this letter will give you a new perspective on what lies ahead for you.

Lastly, as you go through these next four years and achieve your dreams, don’t forget to look back and help the next generation of athletes who come after you.

Rennie Curran

Rennie Curran is the author of  “Free Agent” — The Perspectives of A Young African American Athlete,” a motivational speaker, professional athlete, and Director of Business Development for SportChirp. You can follow him on twitter @RennieCurran53, Instagram RennieCurran, or visit his website at www.RennieCurran.com.