ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Keith Elias played a few seasons in the NFL back in the 1990s, then it was time to enter the real world.
''When I played, there weren't as many resources that were preparing guys for life after football, and when that comes, it's very abrupt, and it's very dramatic in somebody's life,'' the former running back said. ''I always say it's like going from Oz back to Kansas.''
Elias now works for NFL Player Engagement, a department focused on the health and wellbeing of current and former players and their families. This week, NFL Player Engagement is teaming with the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business to host the NFL Business Academy, with around 30 current and former players attending the five-day program.
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The schedule includes time with school faculty, business leaders and players who have begun careers in the corporate world.
''Football doesn't last forever, and we have to realize that, and take the steps necessary to secure what our careers will be after we play,'' said Chris Conley, who just finished his rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs. ''We could play for 10 years, and still get out and be 32 years old.''
The Ross school is named after Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross. This week's event allows participants to explore business management and entrepreneurship, as well as franchising, product design and real estate.
On Wednesday, players visited Menlo Innovations, a company that designs and builds custom software. It was one of several trips to businesses in the area on the schedule.
''I started my first dog-walking business when I was 10, so I've kind of been like a little business owner forever,'' Dolphins safety Shamiel Gary said. ''It's kind of my passion.''
The 25-year-old Gary said he'd already done some of his own research on entrepreneurship, and he understands a football career won't last forever. He says he's hoping this week's program will help him with business and marketing plans for a book he's working on.
''It's a devotional,'' Gary said. ''It's about purpose - being purposeful, driven.''
Gary said something he's learned for sure is the importance of understanding bookkeeping, and Conley echoed that sentiment.
''The one thing that we've heard from every speaker every day that we've been here is: learn accounting. Some people did when they were in college. Some people had nothing to do with it,'' Conley said. ''Another one is just people skills. Whatever it is that you're doing, when you finish playing, you want to surround yourself with good people.''
NFL players could previously attend ''boot camps'' on business management and entrepreneurship, consumer products and franchising. This week's program is an effort to offer a more comprehensive experience.
''Some guys are interested in being an entrepreneur, but franchise is a part of that,'' said Elias, who played for the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts from 1994-99. ''This is a place where you can get all the truth and all of the facts . about those topics, so a guy can pursue it.''
The week has also been a good chance for players with similar interests to spend time together, and Conley said those who have been in the league longer wished they had participated in something like this sooner.
He also said it's understandable that professional athletes like him might develop an eye toward working in business.
''Many business owners, franchisees, people who start businesses themselves, people who work in that space, they spend countless hours perfecting their craft and creating their brand, and that is something that we do ever since we come out of high school,'' he said. ''I feel like a lot of people that I know, that I've interacted with, have gravitated toward business because it's the most similar thing to what we've been doing for years.''
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