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Sports Then and Now

Karl Mecklenburg Gives All-Pro Advice in “Heart of a Student-Athlete”

Posted on October 05, 2009 by Todd Civin

Mecklenburg sizing up his opponent during his 12 NFL seasons

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is the often used cliche used by those who once sipped from a cup of swill only to rise and taste champagne.

Though not a direct quote in NFL-All-Pro Karl Mecklenburg’s new book, “Heart of a Student Athlete-All Pro Advice for Competitors and Their Families” it is the underlying theme between the covers of this wonderful new motivational manual.

Mecklenburg, who was once thought to be “too small, too slow and too stiff” to become a successful football player at any level, used his intelligence, his diligence and his refusal to accept defeat in countless stops along the journey to becoming a top NFL linebacker.

Frequently referred to as the “most versatile player in the NFL” for his ability to play all of the front seven positions, Mecklenburg recaps the many hurdles he had to leap throughout his life en-route to his famed NFL career.

He speaks candidly about being hazed by his early coaches and teammates and how life challenges helped him become the hard-nosed professional that earned six Pro Bowl and three Super Bowl appearances.

The former 12-year veteran of Denver Broncos fame, has traveled the motivational speaking and charity circuit since his retirement from football in 1995.

He now turns his skilled ability to motivate others into a useful guide intended to help increase the mental drive and toughness necessary to become a successful student athlete.

The book is a must-read, for parents of and student-athletes themselves, as it contains important ingredients to turn

Karl and his son Luke during his playing days

Karl and his son Luke during his playing days

the skilled athlete into a successful athlete.

Mecklenburg’s book is also extremely beneficial for the non-athlete as well, as it guides any student or adult through very real-life challenges in and out of sport.

“Heart of a Student Athlete” is constructed around Mecklenburg’s Six Keys to Success, which include Teamwork, Courage, Honesty and Forgiveness, Dedication, Desire and Goal Setting. Throughout each chapter of this 130-page read, Mecklenburg cites real-life examples of the do’s and don’ts in building the well-rounded student athlete.

“Success is overcoming obstacles on the way to your dreams,” is the quote that Mecklenburg frequently uses throughout the book to remind the student athlete that the road to the top of the mountain is often a bumpy one.

In his chapter entitled “Goal Setting,” Mecklenburg reminds student athletes, “You need to take small steps when you dream big dreams. I am a published author with dyslexia, a professional speaker who was in speech therapy for three years as a child because I had a lisp; and a slow stiff kid from the suburbs who became an All-Pro in the NFL.”

He continues, “These things seem improbable, but each small step, each goal accomplished, brought me closer to my desires.”

In an era where pro athletes often shy away from becoming role models, Mecklenburg does what he did for much of his successful career as an All-Pro linebacker.

He broadens his shoulders and encourages his readers to climb aboard them. To see all the positive players as role models, and to ignite parents, coaches and teachers, to be role models as well.

The cover shot of Heart of a Student Athlete

The cover shot of Heart of a Student Athlete

The very first chapter of the book, entitled “Heroes”, dissects his 1983 Denver Broncos team and gives a player by player recap of where these players ended up in 2008, on the 25th anniversary of the team.

Almost to a man, Mecklenburg finds that his teammates can be found on the list of successful achievers and not playing the real life role of “dumb jock.”

He suggests that parents remain in the role of interested observer rather than fighting the actual battle as their student-athlete traverses through the rigors that accompany playing sports.

In my interview with Mecklenburg, which will be posted tomorrow on Bleacher Report and Sports, Then and Now, he said, “When a child is given the opportunity to make decisions about which activity to participate in they will value those activities. This is how they learn to make decisions that are appropriate for them before they become adults.”

In the book, he speaks directly to parents and family members on this topic. “I know your instincts scream at you to intervene on behalf of your children when they struggle or feel something ‘unfair’ is happening to them on a team. Know that disappointments and challenges build character and allow your children to focus on their level of commitment.”

The book contains many wonderful recounts of hunting and fishing trips in Mecklenburg’s life and even retells the tale of forgiveness when one of his hunting buddies inadvertently pumped him full of pellets during a turkey hunting trip to southern Nebraska.

Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is in the chapter, Big Games, where Mecklenburg speaks of a teammate who used drugs during a Super Bowl game and of  his own personal decision to remain drug-free in his pursuit of excellence.

He tells of the contradictory path that known NFL steroid user Bill Romanowski and others took and how their decision permanently altered their health and abilities. For any parent of a student athlete, this is a chapter that will forever affect your child’s future.

And finally, my favorite section tells of his former high school teammate Duane Anderson, the greatest player you never heard of, who despite being one the most dominant players Mecklenburg ever played with, lacked the opportunity, desire and dedication to pursue his dreams. Anderson quit football to become a gas station attendant in his family’s filling station.

Mecklenburg says, “I often wonder if he could have dominated in the same way at other levels or if he was so dominant because he was shaving while we were watching Captain Kangaroo. We will never know, and neither will he, and that is a shame.”

Mecklenburg, a devout Christian speaks with conviction about God and how his relationship with Jesus Christ helps

Mecklenburg works with his charity and gives motivational speeches since his retirement from pro football.

Mecklenburg works with his charity and as a motivational speaker since his retirement from pro football.

him through every day of his life both challenging or rewarding.

“Being a Christian isn’t an insurance policy,” explains Mecklenburg. “It’s a relationship that touches every part of who you are. I do everything from a Christian perspective. I don’t have another perspective. I am a Christian.”

To purchase or win a signed copy…

“Heart of a Student Athlete: All Pro Advice For Competitors and Their Families” is available through Mecklenburg’s website at or through your local Independent Bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Borders, or Walden Books.

We will be giving away a signed copy to a Sports Then and Now reader by visiting the guest book on the site.

Mention Sports Then and Now and sign up at the site to be entered to win an autographed copy of the book. TC

Todd Civin is a freelance writer for Bleacher Report, Seamheads and Sports Then and Now and can be reached at for hire or comment.

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