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Matt Whittier, President, O-D Life Sports

October 26, 2011

Matt Whittier, President, O-D Life Sports:

First, can you tell readers about Offense-Defense, how it got started and who you work with?

Offense-Defense Sports got its start 45 years ago with a single camp in Putney, Vermont, of all places. My Father, Rick, and I, both always heavily involved in sports, saw how great a product and service the company was providing and purchased it 15 years ago in order to expand its reach nationwide and bring our great instruction both on the field with football and off the field, life skills-wise, to young athletes all across the country. We have a tight, dedicated staff at our headquarters in Myrtle Beach year-round and we work with thousands of prominent high school, collegiate, and NFL coaches and players during our busiest phases of the Summer.

I could name them all but you’d run out of ink!  But we’ve taken it from the one camp location 15 years ago to the 100+ locations we’re helping athletes in now.

 How do kids sign up and how does this football camp differ from others around the country?

We offer a lot of the traditional methods of registration. Campers can register through our website (, by phone, or even by mail. In addition, we take a grass roots approach to getting out to communities in person and holding meetings with youth groups and leagues where they can hear us talk about the camp face-to-face and collect signups in person.  All campers must enroll in advance, well in advance in many of our locations, simply due to lack of space provided in dorms, cafeteria, field space, etc. 

Not all kids/athletes are the same in terms of their physical and psychological “make-up” – how do you address each athlete as an individual versus a one-size-fits-all approach to training?

 That’s a great question and a real big part of how we deliver our multi-faceted training. The first day of each one of our camps is generally reserved for non-contact drills where our coaches are able to evaluate each camper in a lower pressure environment. We’re able to get a gauge of every athlete’s size and demeanor as well as their athletic ability and position-specific skill-set. From there, we spend that evening’s planning session placing campers in appropriate groups of their TRUE peers – other athletes who fit the same personality, age, size, and skill attribute categories.  

It’s a great way to have campers not only make friends and improve at a proper pace, but it also instills confidence when you have a less talented athlete not getting his doors blown off by an All-American caliber camper. Each athlete is able to experience success and believe in themselves as well as become a better football player. We feel this provides a great foundation for future success.

A number of Steelers have come through your camps – Roethlisberger, Timmons, Porter, Will Allen….Any fun memories of those guys?

There was a time with Big Ben at our Pittsburgh camp where he was on the field helping not only supervise but also coach some of the kids. Our guys were really going at it! On one particular play a talented young ‘baller was headed downfield like a 10 year old Barry Sanders,  full head of steam and met a determined linebacker, James Harrison style, who made an amazing open field hit to separate this little monster from the ball. Both jumped up, showed the necessary “O-D Love” of respect, and Ben jumped in the air celebrating just as much if not more than the other kids!

You could tell he was not only excited to be there, but also genuinely interested and invested in our young players’ success.

Though he didnt work out as Pitt hoped, Kendrell Bell also came his 2nd season and was just a big kid.  They’re all big kids to some gree, but he was always cheesin’ and hamming it up pretty good.

Mark Breuner, he’s out in the Seattle area watching his girls play lacrosse, but he’s become a very dear friend of mine…..and the list goes on…

Who were some of the more memorable athletes you’ve worked with – what made them so?

Cam Newton got a real bad rap while he was in college. Completely undeserved. We had him at our inaugural All-American Bowl where he took home MVP honors and we knew he was going to be something special. Before his amazing year at Auburn, he volunteered to come to camp in Atlanta and talk about some of the experiences he had, good and bad, and stressed the importance of making good decisions, learning from your mistakes (or hopefully even BEFORE you make them!), and how the O-D experience and exposure helped kick off his career. He’s a remarkable, intelligent, and caring young man.

Steve Smith has been a really special presence at some of our camps in the past as well. He never advertised the fact, so I hope he doesn’t mind me doing so now, but at each camp he’s been at he’s purchased merchandise from our on-campus store for EVERY single camper at our camp…thousands of dollars worth each time. He’s one-in-a-million.

Nate Newton of course had a pretty troubled time after he retired from the game. He’s another great example of a guy that likes to give back by coming to camp and talking to the kids honestly about the mistakes he’s made and how to avoid them. Further than that, Big Nate felt our instructional mission and his message were important enough that he would also tour with us, hitting upwards of 10 camps a Summer and serving as a super counselor of sorts. I guess we should actually call him Little Nate now…he’s lost 170 lbs! 

How do you work with kids on making good off-field decisions as well?

Obviously we have a limited time at each location to speak with our campers. That isn’t to say that we don’t try! Through a combination of O-D Staff…our coaches, pro players, etc…we’ll take time to speak to our athletes about making the right choices in life. We stress the importance of respect, community, family, and school and how a good foundation in each of these areas will most likely lead to success and happiness the rest of their lives. Recently, we set up a social networking site called OD4Life ( where our campers can stay connected with each other and with us, even when they’re away from camp. They can talk about their game, their life, their troubles and successes…really, whatever they want!

With all their peers and our staff in the same place, it offers a great way for everyone to stay connected and enlist even a larger group for problem solving and guidance via crowd-sourcing. At its most basic, players can perform well on the field if they aren’t taking care of things off the field. It’s in everyone’s best interest to help out and we try to do that as best we can!

This will be the 6th year of the O-D All American Bowl – can you tell readers more about this – where its held and who is invited to play – is this a forum for recruiters?

Every year we take a long hard look at the best high school players in the country. We go over film, scouting reports, and rely on our own two eyeballs to make an assessment and invite the top 88 seniors to our game. Our game was the last ever football game played at the Orange Bowl and recently we’ve been holding games right here in our headquarters city of Myrtle Beach. This year is very special and exciting for us as we’ll be having the game in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Each of these games have been broadcast on national television. Over time, the game has grown into a week long festival, really.

We’ve started inviting youth players ages 7-17 to participate in the Youth All-American Bowl, now entering its third year, and high school players not quite ready for the televised game this year get to partake in the first ever Junior All-American contest. There’s a Coaches Convention packed with clinics for all positions and coaching levels, and also a National Tournament of full youth teams that come from far and awaide to. All-in-all, it’s a happening. And of course, recruiters are able to and DO attend…as well as look over footage from our practices and the game both on Nationally TV and, which is broadcast 24 hours a day, the entire week…..and with the 382 current players in the NFL that are O-D Alum, as well as countless players playing D-1 ball, you never know what friends are  going to swing by!

How do you prepare kids for the college game and life – where film study, educational and social pressures are much greater?

The past few years have seen us start up our O-DLife service which provides counseling and guidance to athletes of ALL ages…but particularly those just encountering the pressures and environment of the collegiate world. We found that in the vast majority of situations, athletes either weren’t shown or didn’t take seriously the risks and stories of those that came before them and encountered difficulties. An overwhelming sense of “It can’t happen to me” is everywhere.

We try to stress that these pitfalls – shady agents, money handshakes, and other extracurricular distractions – are far more prevalent that a lot of people might expect. We make sure to go over the rules with the athletes we’re helping…tell them what they can expect if they break those rules…and how best to keep their nose clean, stay straight, and fly right. It tends to resonate when athletes are being advised by people they know and have trusted for years…sometimes over a decade!

You still work with alumni, offering consulting, PR and financial services. Do you work with any Steelers – if so, how? 

At we work with about 4,800 active and retired players, so of course there are a lot of Steelers mixed in.  Levon Kirkland and Dermontii are huge advocates of O-D, Terry Bradshaw called about two weeks ago and asked if we’d be on his TV show down in the Louisiana area, of course Timmons lives very close to our Headquarters in Myrtle Beach, so yes, we’re pretty active with the guys. 

Whether active or retired, regardless of team, they respect that we arent agents or salesmen trying to get in their pockets, we’re not full-time coaches operating just to make some money for the lower paid coaching staff members, not gym teachers looking for a summer job; we are 24/7/365 aimed at improving players on an individual basis, and also helping those active and retired guys in need.  With the development of OFF field focused and its progression into, we are already having an impact on these athletes understanding non-football necessities like family roles and responsibilities, to goal-setting, community involvement and a heck of a lot more. 

We’re very proud and encouraged with the strides we’ve made in our mission to decrease the divorce rate, avoid bankruptcy and any legal issues we’ve helped prevent.
Do any Steelers or other players come to the camp to visit/encourage the next generation of players? 

Absolutely….we are pretty particular about who we have around the kids, some players just dont “get it” why they are there.  These guys are bigger than life on TV so for a camper to see this person in the flesh can be very positive. At the same time, if this player is the introvert, who’s on his cell texting away, and watching the clock, the kids see that and it can deflate them somewhat.  

That’s of course the opposite of what we aim to do, of course, so I’d rather have no pro player there at all than someone that isn’t going to interact with the kids an a 100% positive way.  Sometimes parents don’t understand that, but they realize the methods to our madness when their kids get hope and start pancaking and schooling the kids that didnt attend O-D. 

In addition, every camp we operate is stacked w/ NFL coaches….these are the people at camp who the kids really benefit from.  Tom Moore, Colts ex-OC, and handpicked by Archie why Peyton was to land with Colts, has been the Head Coach of our camps for 42 of our 45 years.  Actually Tom won 3 SuperBowls with Pittsburgh in the 70’s, he also coached Barry Sanders, again Peyton, another SuperBowl with ther Colts, the guys an offensive mastermind, but he also knows how to relate a curriculum involving full-contact to our 3000+ camp coaches nationwide that will best benefit them.  Tom and about 50 other O-D Coaches help us fine-tune our curriculum in a huge weekend meeting we have a few months before the camp season starts. 

They also respect how much we care about the product we are giving the kids, so in turn, they make sure every coach on their particular camp staff understands how serious we are and how he better treat his role the exact same, whether he’s coaching a 6 year old or an 18 year old.
What do you find is the biggest adjustment for players who enter the NFL, and how do you help them overcome those challenges? 

Its very similar to the transition they have to make from HS to College mentally.  Deciding on a college isn’t easy, and picking an agent is a downright dreadful process.  I, personally have negotiated w/ just about every agency in existence for one thing or another, and these guys wake up in the morning wondering who and how they are going to take advantage of people.  Fortunately there ARE some honorable, relaiable, trustworthy guys in the industry that we simply let our kids know about when they are making that jump to the league.  So mentally there are those stressful decisions that they have to take very seriously.

Physically the jump from college to the pro’s is normally summed up in one word; Speed.  Guys are getting bigger, faster and stronger every year and there’s no grace period to catch up.  You either arrive physically prepared or you better be prepared to find other employment.  On top of it, that playbook you better know like the back of your hand.  That involves intelligence and efforts that some guys just arent use to. 

Then there’s the pocket full of new money that many aren’t use to having, so that have to be on their toes intelligence-wise there as well because the average NFL career being 3.4 years they better not take that pocketful for granted or they’ll find themselves in tough shape, going from the top of the mountain to the dregs of the valley very quickly.

You might expect athletes who’ve made it so far to have the hardest parts of their journey behind them. It’s true in SOME ways…financial temptation doesn’t tend to be as big of a problem. For one, these players are now ALLOWED to make money and for another, their first contracts are likely to include more money than they’ve ever seen before. Still, it’s a big jump from the college game to the professional and the pitfalls that DO exist are likely to be more damaging in the long haul.

For one, a lot of players still believe themselves to be invincible. They think they’re going to be earning big money paydays in the league for 15 or 20 years when the stark reality is much, much different. We try to get them to look at the big picture as far as building a nest egg right away and making sure they maintain or build further their commitments to family so bonds form that are much harder to damage and the money is there if and when they need it in the future.

Some statistics are pretty depressing, particularly those that pertain to divorce, bankruptcy, and even mortality rates as players leave the league…a majority less than 6 or 7 years after they entered it. We’re just trying to do our part to make sure those statistics improve and in the best cases, stop these young men from becoming statistics in the first place.

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