By FRANK WARD
Pounding the ball into the end zone a Super Bowl record three times in SB XXIX. Running the Eagles to three playoff appearances without a legit NFL quarterback during the Ray Rhodes era. Having a stadium bursting with energy from your athletic prowess.
Ricky Watters was one of the better running backs of his era, especially in the West Coast Offense. But, none of the Harrisburg, PA, native’s accomplishments came without hard work, dedication and perseverance.
From growing up in foster homes, to being thought of as a diva by some NFL observers, Watters has never had it easy. Yet his hard-nosed work ethic carried him to a prolific Pro Bowl career.
Today, away from the spotlight, the cheers of 65,000 fans, and the high profile lifestyle that goes with being a top NFL running back, Watters is handing off life experience to children like him. Through his Urban Youth League outreach program, Watters offers guidance to kids who otherwise may fall through the cracks.
To be clear, he doesn’t operate the Urban Youth League to get headlines or pump up his ego. All he needs to do is shine his Super Bowl ring to do that.
“I just try to take it as far as God is telling me to do it,” Watters says of the Foundation that once bore his name. “Whatever happens from that is fine; wherever it goes has to be good because it’s coming from heart and it is positive.
“I’m one of people that it’s not all about me. I took my name off of the foundation. I just want to be a part of the great things we do, and not the center of it. And, it’s not just money, but time, too.”
Today, Watters aims to motivate others to do well because, as trite as the expression is, he once walked and ran in their shoes.
“This was a natural thing to help and mentor kids and talk to the ones in group homes and foster care,” said Watters. “It was a natural progression. I was in foster care. After I retired, I changed the Foundation to the Urban Youth League and focused on ways to help them.”
One of the major parts of the Urban Youth League is the Urban Music League. Music was always a passion for Watters and he now uses that as a way to connect with kids and earn their respect and confidence.
“I’ve done creative things and music for a long time,” Watters said. “I used to write poetry in high school and put it to music. I now use it to mentor kids. They all say they want to be that — musician, entertainer or baller. Once they realize I do this, the kids listen, see the studio in my house; it helps with mentoring them.“
Watters has really been able to build a connection with kids through music and, of course, football. He will hold the Ricky Watters Pro Football Experience on July 17-18 in Orlando, Florida.
“When I talk to people to work in group homes, they are amazed at what I can get out of kids in such short period of time because they are with him every day,” Watters said. “The kids, they loosen up and realize I’m one of them.”
One of the things that has really helped is the book he penned detailing his rough childhood, “Ricky Watters: A Warrior’s Journey.”
“Many kids don’t want to read,” said Watters. “Then, they read the book and realize what they have in common. It’s great because they change their position and want to talk about my life. They parallel my life and can relate to it.”
He says the book has helped people other than him connect with kids, as well.
“People’s fathers say they’ve connected with sons through that book,” he says. “Everything has turned out better than the thought. I did it to express myself and it’s great because it’s helped people. It’s been special.”
For his part, Watters works with kids personally to help motivate them to get the most out of life. He gets them clothes, talks one-on-one, and brings them into his home.
“I want to get kids to take care of themselves, literally,” said Watters, “and put themselves in best light to be leaders in community. I want bunch of kids who want to give back to society instead of being a menace to society. I’ve dealt with kids in foster care and detention centers.
“When I was in Los Angeles, I worked with Jim Brown to stop violence. I worked with gang members who want to do better and put themselves in a position to be a viable member of society in positive way.”
If the kids listen to the advice and mentoring Watters is providing, they’ll be positive, contributing members of society.