By John Holman
George Koonce, Ph.D., and retired Green Bay Packers linebacker, has returned home from a summer of training and is ready to get back to work as Vice President for Advancement at Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wis.
Koonce spent much of his summer sharing ideas and solutions to challenges in higher education among fellow senior-level administrators from around the country at the Harvard Institute of Educational Management.
He said he learned a lot about peer-to-peer learning, which helps to reinforce concepts for all students, and networking, from fellow senior-level administrators around the country.
Although no stranger to success, Koonce said he achieved a new dream in being admitted to Harvard. “Growing up in a very socially, economically deprived area in eastern North Carolina, I never thought I’d set foot on an Ivy League campus,” Koonce said.
“But through hard work and striving for excellence, you can achieve dreams that you never even imagined.”
A busy man, Koonce spoke with me on the phone between a meeting and a community engagement, but his passion for education and community service still rang through as he spoke.
He was due in Milwaukee to participate in the “Class Act” school supply drive, a partnership between WISN and the Salvation Army to provide underprivileged youths with materials critical to their educational success.
Koonce said this would be his third year helping with the effort and he wants other people to know how important it is to help children in need of it. “I remember growing up in eastern North Carolina. My mom couldn’t always afford my school supplies,” Koonce said.
“There were some years where I went to school with nothing new — no book bag, no pencils, none of the necessary supplies.” Koonce attributed his sense of community to the influence of one of his former Green Bay Packers teammates.
“I met Reggie White when I was 24-years-old,” Koonce said. “What I took away from being in that locker room with him for those six years was the message to give back to your community.
Reggie believed you should leave a place in better shape than you found it.”
If anything rivals Koonce’s passion for community service, it would likely be education.
After a nine-year NFL career, Koonce had a tough time adjusting to “real life” and was searching for a new purpose with his newfound freedom.
He decided to go back to school. First, he achieved a Master of Arts in Sports Management at East Carolina University in 2006, and then a Ph.D. from Marquette University in 2012.
Koonce’s body of work outside of football since his NFL playing days is proof that White’s words hit home.
He founded the George Koonce Sr. Foundation in 1999 to help provide underprivileged youths with opportunities to assist their development. He has also continued to guide athletes at the college and professional levels.
Koonce is also working on a personal business endeavor, Athlos360, which would help to connect student-athletes with jobs — a void in desperate need of attention, based on his own experience as a student-athlete and through his doctoral studies, which led to his book, “Is There Life After Football?: Surviving the NFL.” As Koonce has faced each new obstacle in his life, he has applied his past experiences to new challenges, which, at its core, is learning. And Reggie White taught him to always share.
“Education is the ultimate equalizer,” Koonce wrote to me in an email.
“My job is about making sure the next generation has access to educational opportunities.”
What a man for the job.