A professional football player's career is limited, often ending even sooner than he had hoped. Which explains why Eddie George, when speaking to college players or NFL rookies, emphasizes the importance of preparing for life after football - and not just having a Plan B. "You're not falling back onto it," said George, 40. "Those aren't the right words. You have to move forward to your destiny. It's always a Plan A."
A professional football player’s career is limited, often ending even sooner than he had hoped.
Which explains why Eddie George, when speaking to college players or NFL rookies, emphasizes the importance of preparing for life after football — and not just having a Plan B.
“You’re not falling back onto it,” said George, 40. “Those aren’t the right words. You have to move forward to your destiny. It’s always a Plan A.”
Practicing what he preaches, the former Buckeye running back — who spent nine seasons in the NFL — knew he would put to use his landscape-architecture degree upon leaving the sport he loves in 2005.
He co-founded Edge, a landscape-architecture firm, shortly before retiring from the National Football League.
Besides its flagship office in Columbus, the business has entities in Nashville and Toledo. (He splits his time between Columbus and the Nashville suburb of Brentwood, Tenn.)
In his decade off the field, though, George hasn’t stopped with Plan A.
He became a partner in Eddie George’s Grille 27, a restaurant across from the Ohio State University campus, in February 2006. In 2008, he earned a master’s in business administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The past two autumns, he co-hosted College Football Saturday on Fox Sports.
He also acts in theater and writes plays, and regularly works with OSU students and alumni groups.
And, beginning tonight, the Heisman Trophy winner and College Football Hall of Fame inductee will add to his lengthy — and varied — resume as a judge on American Dream Builders, a new reality competition on NBC.
“I’m responsible for (assessing) the outside of the house, like how they used plant material or pavement material,” he said. “I might comment on how they used a gathering space for a fire pit."
At a recent OSU alumni dinner in Naples, Fla., Archie Griffin — another former Buckeye and a two-time Heisman Trophy winner —introduced George, the keynote speaker, as “a Renaissance man.”
“Leaving the game is difficult for most people, especially when you’ve played the game most of your life,” said Griffin, who played for eight years in the NFL.
“George’s transition, although I know it’s been tough — he’s said it has been — you wouldn’t know it because of all he’s been doing, all the successes he’s having.”Early designer
George, a Philadelphia native, traces his love for designing spaces to a sixth-grade model-city project.
With help from his mother, he shaped skyscrapers; a KFC restaurant; and, of course, a football stadium.
“When we were done, my mom said I should think about becoming an architect,” George recalled.
The sentiment stuck, even as his talent for football became more apparent.
Upon arriving at Ohio State, he wanted to major in architecture, but the combined demands of the tough academic program and football were too great, school officials told him.
They suggested, though, that he try landscape architecture, which would provide greater flexibility.
“They told me that no other athlete had ever been through this program,” George said. “I took it as a challenge then. I wanted to be a trailblazer.”
He needed a little longer than most students to earn a bachelor’s degree, but George finished in 2001 while playing for the Tennessee Titans.
Shortly thereafter, he and some others co-founded Edge, which has worked locally on the Columbus Commons, the Hollywood Casino and other projects. The company also helped renovate a New Orleans community upended by Hurricane Katrina.
Although he hasn’t been at the drawing board for several years — he mainly handles marketing and offers an overall vision for the company — George said he does provide input on certain projects.
Tom Shelly, executive producer of American Dream Builders, was surprised to learn about George’s landscape-design background from the show’s casting director.
“He’s known for football, but he has a real area of expertise that we needed on the show,” said Shelly, who, coincidentally, also graduated from Ohio State (Class of 1984).
The show — which pits 12 contestants (architects, interior designers and contractors) against one another to renovate homes — showcases George’s eye for detail and strong viewpoint, Shelly said.
“He’s pretty artistic and creative, but he’s very functional. You have to live in the house, too.”
While filming during 10 weeks in the fall, George was impressed by the variety of styles — art-deco, Spanish, modular and so on — that the contestants employed and executed in short periods. He said he emphasized the importance of the landscaping, one of the first things a person sees when looking at a home.
“You can’t just put up some trees and call it done. It has to have a purpose, be functional and look pleasing to the eye.”
He and the two other judges, designers Nate Berkus and Monica Pedersen, offer guidance to the contestants, who work in teams to tackle a new project each episode. The judges decide who goes home each week, with $250,000 going to the winner.
George championed practicality more than the other judges, Shelly said, but the three enjoyed a nice chemistry.
“He always had this great reaction: ‘Ooh.’ And we’d all be waiting to see if it was a good ‘Ooh’ or a bad ‘Ooh.’??”Role model
Beyond the reality-TV realm, George has continued to pursue his passion for acting.
Denice Hicks, artistic director of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, cast him as the title characters in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 2012 and Othello in January.
“Not only does he have the charisma to sell a Shakespeare character onstage, but he has the discipline,” said Hicks, who met George in 2011. “You have to enjoy digging into the script.”
George once spent three hours on the phone with a script consultant — in the middle of the night, she said.
Although acting and plowing through linebackers might seem incompatible, Hicks said, George’s experience on the field and his work ethic have proved to be assets onstage.
“Sports and theater are all about being in the moment, being on your toes,” she said.
Plus, his muscular, 6-foot-3-inch frame gives him a formidable stage presence.
Although he took drama classes as a child at the Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia, young Eddie faced distractions.
“There was only one thing on my mind: football — football and chasing after girls.”
Now, as an adult, he has a greater appreciation — plus the time — for theater and storytelling.
In Columbus in 2010, he performed Topdog/Underdog at the King Arts Complex. And he is finishing a script for a one-man show — Where Did All the Warriors Go? — about the effect that football has had on him.
George dreams of appearing on Broadway someday.
“Through the arts, I’m able to express my doubts and fears,” he said. “I deal with the pain of not playing the game in my writing, my acting.”
Keeping busy with his many ventures and raising a family — he and his wife, Tamara “Taj” Johnson-George, have two young sons — help, too.
Even though he has left football in the rearview mirror, he said, he applies what made him successful on the field to his other pursuits.
“Whether it’s performing on the stage as Othello or judging on American Dream Builders or giving a speech at OSU, I approach it with the same integrity through and through.”