6/24/2021 1 Comment
Life starts once your eligibility is over, so it's important to be "More than an athlete"
Malik Slater was named to the Tusculum University football coaching staff in the summer of 2020. He serves as defensive line coach and is responsible for the bandit position on the TU defense.
Slater, a native of Tallahassee, Florida, played one season of professional football with the Cedar Rapids River Kings of the Indoor Football League. He played in seven games in the 2019 campaign where he averaged 6.6 tackles per game while finishing the year with 46 stops with 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and recorded an interception. Slater played two seasons at Jacksonville University before transferring to Valdosta State University for his final two years, all with head coach Kerwin Bell.
Played in 21 games at Jacksonville (2014-2015) where he totaled 113 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks at linebacker as future Tusculum head coach Jerry Odom was his defensive coordinator at JU. Slater earned All-Pioneer Football League honorable mention recognition in 2015 with the Dolphins.
He was a two-year starter at Valdosta State (2016-2017) where he garnered All-Gulf South Conference first team honors in 2017. He was also a D2CCA All-Super Region 2 first team selection and earned a berth to the FCS Senior Bowl where he was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player. He was also an invitee to the Tropical Bowl All-Star Game. Slater totaled 115 tackles in his 20 career games with the Blazers including seven tackles for loss.
He earned his undergraduate degree from Valdosta State with a degree while majoring in business administration and marketing. He is working on his master’s degree from Tusculum in sports administration.
1.Tell us about your journey after playing football.
Once I finished what I would consider my last season of playing professional football, I knew that I needed to finish up my undergraduate degree. It entailed of me having to move back to Valdosta and finish my degree on campus in two semesters. While I embarked on finishing my degree, I had to take on working two jobs and an internship, all while having to deal with the complications from COVID pretty much shutting everything down (except my two jobs and internship). Despite these circumstances, I was able to persevere through everything and graduate in May 2020 with my bachelor’s in Marketing. During that time period, my old coach had reached out to me with an opportunity as a graduate assistant football coach and in June 2020, I moved to Greeneville, Tennessee to become a graduate assistant as an assistant defensive line coach at Tusculum University. Even though COVID cancelled the fall season, we participated in a shortened Spring season in which we won the Southern Atlantic Conference championship for the first time in 13 years. Now I hold a full-time position coaching the defensive line.
2.Being that you transferred from Jacksonville University to Valdosta State University, relay to athletes now who are seeking to transfer the pros and cons in doing so.
Transferring is a very big decision to make and should be carefully considered when doing so. Everybody’s situation is different, and it varies, but your main priority should be putting yourself in the best position to succeed and find somewhere that will allow you to flourish and grow on and off the field. Some of the pros include giving yourself a new start, in which you can learn and grow from your experience at your former school, creating new relationships and forming new connections, the potential for more playing time, and the opportunity to create new experiences and life-long memories. However, some of the cons include the potential for the transfer to not be the right fit, coaching staffs leaving and have to get accustomed to another change and losing credits for your degree.
2b. Also, what should athletes look for in the next college in order to make the right decision when transferring.
The number one thing I would recommend athletes to look for is the best opportunity to call that new college home in which it will give you the best opportunity to succeed, flourish and grow on and off the field. Instead of chasing the biggest name, find somewhere that has a great culture, a players-first staff, and has a great program for your intended major that you plan on graduating in.
3.Who was Malik the football player, versus Malik the football coach?
Malik the football player was someone who was determined to be the best in all phases and aspects of the game. Someone who brought a “lunch pail” mentality day in and day out. I wanted to lead by example 24/7 and hold myself accountable every day so I could be in position to hold others around me accountable. I also wanted to be able to elevate my teammates’ “game” around me through my actions and discipline in order to help them reach their full potential as well.
Malik as the football coach embodies many of those same characteristics, but more so from a mentor standpoint. My mindset now is not only to develop players into reaching their full potential on the field, but off the field as well becoming successful young men. I know how pivotal those 4-5 years of growth are for young men, so to me it is imperative that I focus on off the field aspects just as much as on the field because the game doesn’t last forever.
4.Name one thing you incorporate into your coaching style (on/off the field) you wish your coaches would have done with you.
I would say that career emphasis/financial literacy is something that I make sure that I incorporate that I wish my coaches would have done more of. Graduating with my degree in business gave me insight on entrepreneurship and starting businesses and that is something that I try to pass on to my players. The game doesn’t last forever, so its imperative for these young men to have an idea of what they want to do career wise once their finished up with their eligibility.
5.What advice would you give to your younger self?
Control what you can control and trust God’s plan for you. Those were some of the biggest lessons that I was able to learn through experience and that someone passed on to me. Often times we find ourselves worrying about things that are out of our control, causing us to stress and create negative energy. If you focus on your attitude, effort, and putting out positive energy each and every day, then things will work themselves out and more than likely work out in your favor as well.
6.How important is it for athletes to develop an identity outside of sports? And why?
To me that is one of the most important things that athletes should do. I was taught to never put all of your eggs into one basket, and when you do that with your prospective sport, you somewhat place yourself in a dilemma whether you realize it or not because the game doesn’t last forever. Life starts once that eligibility is up, and it is important to be “more than an athlete.” If you strive to become more of a well-rounded individual, then you give yourself a better chance to make that transition once your playing eligibility is up.
7.As we know, the transition period is more mental, what are some practices you did to not allow your thoughts to hinder how you moved forward after playing?
The main things I did was reach out to my friends/family who made the transition from playing sports to finding out a different path in life. Being able to hear their experiences helped me tremendously in making that transition. Also having mentors in different fields such as business helped me as well, because it gave me a different potential path that I could travel down.
8.What has been most challenging to you transitioning to life after playing sports?
The most challenging thing I dealt with while transitioning to life after playing sports was battling with the idea of not fulfilling my dream of playing in the NFL. Although I hadn’t put all of my eggs into that basket, it was something that I didn’t allow myself to believe that I wouldn’t do. To see other people, get the opportunity, especially the ones who I felt my skills were either on par with or exceeded theirs bothered me mentally, but it was something I ultimately charged to the game. I was able to find solace and comfort in the idea that I gave it everything I had towards that dream, and that I could still be close to the game while positively impacting young men’s lives, which has been fulfilling to me in its own right.
9.What should all athletes expect to experience once their playing career is over?
Anger, frustration, disappointment, and uncertainty are all some of the emotions I experienced once my playing career was over and many may feel those. There can be a period of darkness as well, especially being mentally conditioned for your prospective sport for many years and then all of a sudden, it’s gone. Once those initial feelings were out of the way though I felt an appreciation of what my path and the game gave me. So many relationships/connections, experiences, and lessons that I learned along the way superseded those initial feelings and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world because it played a role in becoming the man I am today.
10.How can coaches and other personnel within an athletic department put systems in place to assist athletes with life skills and prepare them for life after sports?
I believe there should be a designated department within the athletic department for all collegiate programs that solely focus on career path development. So many players get thrown into degree programs that are easier just to remain academically eligible, in which results in many of those players not graduating or having a degree in something they genuinely have no interest in and don’t end up pursuing a career in as well. Head coaches should be required to either hire somebody on staff who does this or designate a coach who performs this task as well, and it should be greatly encouraged throughout all coaching staffs because the job of a coach extends far beyond athletic performance/development.
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