How Playing In the NFL Trained Reggie Smith for the Corporate World

From the 49ers to the nine-to-fivers.

“I really wasn’t ready for it to be over,” Reggie Smith says. But it was: He played football since childhood, was a defensive star at University of Oklahoma, and played for the 49ers from 2008 to 2011 before being cut from the Panthers in 2012 and the Raiders in 2013. And that was it. Time to find a real job. And he had no plan.

So, Smith went back to the Oklahoma to get his BA. This past February, he did a three-week internship at Fanatics, the gigantic sports apparel company. (When you buy something online from the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA, or more than 150 college or pro teams? Fanatics is handling that.) After graduating in May, he got a job offer from the company, and on July 27 he joined the corporate world as an outbound supervisor, meaning he oversees getting products sorted and shipped to customers.

These days, he works in a 525,000-square-foot warehouse in Jacksonville, Florida, and his pay is just a liiiiiiitle different. “You have to adjust to not getting those same huge checks we used to get in the NFL, and learn how to taper it back,” he told Maxim. But he’s found the transition surprisingly straightforward, because lessons he learned in football apply directly to the corporate world.

Lesson 1: You always have something to prove

“It’s just really humbling yourself to be able to go in each and every day knowing that you’re not the professional that other people are in this area,” Smith says, “so you have to step back and learn from each and every person there. You’re at the bottom and you’re trying to build back up to the level where you’re elite at this job.”

Lesson 2: Keep an eye out for the rookies

Once Smith had notched a few years in the NFL, he started looking out for the new guys. It wasn’t pure altruism; if he didn’t do it, a rookie might misunderstand a play and his team’s defense would be blown. “It’s the whole aspect of teamwork—having to rely on the next person to get the job done,” he says. “That’s kind of the same way in the fulfillment center.” Now he has 142 people reporting to him, and 100 more about to begin, and his department will be screwed if he doesn’t get everyone up to speed.

Lesson 3: Know your audience

People will fall behind. They do in football, and they do in a warehouse. But screaming is only effective in one of those environments. “In the league, you can raise your voice and you can yell and scream and it’s OK,” he says. “If you’re in the fulfillment center and you do that, it wouldn’t be good because some of the associates would shut down. So, you have to relate to each and every person, and you have to figure out how to relay your message to them in the way that they’ll understand that you want them to get something done.”

Lesson 4: There are times you just need to crush it

Fanatics is entering its crazy-busy season: The NBA and NHL began, there’s NFL and college football, and holiday shopping starts—meaning the company goes from shipping 100,000 items a day to 600,000. How’s Smith preparing for that? “I see it as training camp,” he says. “It was 3 weeks long. This is about 3 weeks long. Every day is a grind. You go in and it’s 3 weeks of up at 7 a.m., out at 7, six or seven days a week. You just to have that mindset that it’s going to be a grind. There’s going to be days I wake up and I’m not going to want to do it, but being mentally tough will push me through those three four weeks.”

Photos by Top image, left: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images; right, courtesy of Fanatics. Image below: courtesy of Fanatics