With the NFL lockout in place, Green Bay Packers tightend Andrew Quarless has a lot of free time on his hands. He says he still has his workout regimen to follow, but he is also filling his schedule with lectures to local youths.
But last Wednesday was not the clichéd pep talk to a group of scholar-athletes, but a frank discussion with graduates of the Juvenile Treatment Court at the in Mineola, which rehabilitates youths suffering from substance abuse.
What makes the an appropriate keynote speaker is the fact that he has been here before. He too has seen the cells where they put the prisoners.
“I saw it, I don’t ever want to go back (sic),” Quarless said, recounting his past for the five young people who were completing the substance abuse program that day.
“I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody... like you in your situation,” the Penn State graduate said, adding later that “this is the first time I was able to open up.”
The juvenile treatment board does aim to give youths a way off the streets. Part of a “reclaiming futures” initiative, the program promotes change in the community for youth with substance abuse issues, giving them a second chance – something to which Quarless is no stranger.
“I’ve had a couple chances,” he said, “I’m thankful for that.”
Despite breaking the record at Penn State for all-time receptions at tight end in a season at 41, having 81 total in his college career and playing in the 2008 Rosebowl, Quarless still faced “some challenges” according to Hon. Conrad Singer, the Juvenile Treatment Court’s presiding judge.
There was the time he was caught dealing drugs while at Holy Trinity High School, an infraction in which he should have been expelled, but was allowed to “transfer” to the Uniondale public school system. “Holy Trinity really helped me out,” Quarless said. “That really helped as far as colleges because if colleges knew I got kicked out, it might have been a different story.”
At Penn State, football coach Joe Paterno would give Quarless another chance after the then-17 year old was cited for underage drinking and later received a DWI.
“I began to look myself in the mirror and say ‘what am I doing wrong? Is this how I’m going to live the rest of my life, getting in trouble?’ Because everything you do doesn’t always affect you,” Quarless said. “When you get in trouble like that it affects everybody around you.”
Choices would be the other half of Quarless’ rebound, something he related to the graduates.
“A lot of it goes back to your friends, its who you keep in your circle,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of people out there who want to bring you down, they want to bring you down.”
Quarless made the choice some nights to sit home babysitting his younger brother and sister instead of going to parties where he knew there would be a 50 percent chance of being involved in a fight. The drinking would stop because of what he said was his ultimate goal: to play professional football, calling the sport his escape from the temptations and pressures around him.
“That kept me from being out in the streets,” he said to the five youths, advising them to “find a way to stay out of the streets because that’s where you’re going to get caught up.”
He also made the choice to continue in college, earning a degree in telecommunications.
Many of the graduates were reportedly going on to Nassau Community College following their graduation from high school.
“I spoke from the heart,” Quarless said after helping to hand out the youths’ diplomas and some autographed footballs “Nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes. Everything I did, everything I learned from, I never did again.”