Former National Football League player Dante Wesley shared lessons from his professional and personal life Tuesday with high school students as part of the College and Career Expo at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Coordinated by the Career Coaches of Southeast Arkansas College, the event featured high school students from Jefferson and Desha counties.
Wesley grew up in Pine Bluff and graduated from Watson Chapel High School in 1997. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Wesley was a cornerback in the National Football League from 2002 to 2010 for the Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. Wesley played in 107 regular season games and in two Super Bowls.
Wesley said a football player, no matter how good he is, cannot reach the NFL on talent. It takes hard work and mental preparation, he stressed. Wesley discussed avoiding the temptations that are inherent in professional sports life and instead being dedicated, determined and disciplined. He credited his wife for his success.
“You have to stay dedicated to your craft, no matter what you plan on doing in life,” Wesley, 38, said. “Be persistent. Do not give up. I would go out there at Watson Chapel at 10:30 at night. .. Putting in time at work is also dedication.”
A 2016 inductee into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, Wesley credited his faith in Jesus Christ, his wife and children.
“I was raised by a single mom,” Wesley said. “I walked on to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks.”
Within a football context, Wesley discussed being comfortable being alone, working on his athletic skills, studying the football playbook and taking care of his health.
On the subject of discipline, Wesley discussed not taking anything for granted.
“If it was not for the University of Arkansas giving me an opportunity, I would never have had a chance to make it this far in life,” Wesley said.
Southeast Arkansas College President Stephen Hilterbran advised the students to take their academics seriously and to choose a discipline that matches their interests. He similarly recommended they study a subject that is useful toward making a living.
Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV gave a similar message, telling the students to listen to their career counselors. He asked the students how many were glad to be at the assembly instead of being in school, prompting many cheers. After the noise subsided, Wilkins added that the students are still learning by being at the assembly.
“This is an opportunity to learn what you want to do in terms of your own future,” Wilkins said. “I am delighted to welcome you.”
He gave a special thanks to the career coaches and asked the students to show their gratitude, prompting their clapping.
“Think about your purpose,” Wilkins said. “As you work through understanding what it is you need to be doing with your life, I encourage you to do so passionately. And you will see progress, not only for yourself but also for all of those whose lives you touch.”
The career expo included representatives of universities and public agencies.