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How Former NFL Pro Marques Colston Thrives as an Athlete Turned Entrepreneur With Ming Zhao

As someone who wasn’t a great student, I would love to see education become more personalized and focused on developing skills that help students experience the things they are really passionate about. The traditional school setting is not for everyone, myself included. I was always pretty good in math, but looking back if I had […]

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As someone who wasn’t a great student, I would love to see education become more personalized and focused on developing skills that help students experience the things they are really passionate about. The traditional school setting is not for everyone, myself included. I was always pretty good in math, but looking back if I had the ability to feed my passion to build and explore technology, the experience would have been a lot more engaging and meaningful.


As a part of our series about how successful “athlete turned entrepreneurs” thrive both professionally and personally, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Marques Colston. Marques is a former American football wide receiver. He played college football at Hofstra University, and was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the seventh round (252nd overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft. He played his entire 10-year with the Saints, helping the team achieve victory in Super Bowl XLIV. He is the Saints’ all-time franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards, and total touchdowns.

While still an active NFL player, Marques had the foresight to begin his second career as an investor and entrepreneur, developing a sophisticated understanding of the business world. Since retiring from football, he has emerged as a leading growth consultant at the intersection of sports, technology, health and wellness. A number of his pursuits have been featured in Forbes, Inc. Magazine, CNBC and Fox Business.

In 2018, he became a partner, as well as the Director of Business Development, at Main Squeeze Juice Co., a New Orleans-based fast-casual juice and smoothie bar franchise that currently has 12 locations open and operating in two states. Most recently, Marques became an early investor in the fast-growing cannabis industry, serving as a primary investor and advisor to Timeless Herbal Care Limited, a Jamaica-based grower and distributor of legal marijuana. Marques has taken a leading position in developing the company’s expansion strategy, including oversight of a US-based joint venture responsible for the development of low-THC cannabidiol (CBD) products for clinical trials to reduce opioid use.

In addition, Marques has a profound interest in giving back to his community and brings together his interests in health and wellness, tech, and entrepreneurship through his support of educational programs that allow him to share his success with others. In 2018, he partnered with Columbia Business School to create an executive education program for current and former athletes. He has also partnered with Hofstra University, his alma mater, to establish the Marques Colston Fellowship to develop experiential learning programs for student-athletes pursuing health careers.

Marques has been a featured speaker at several business conferences and summits sharing his insights on business success, leadership, team building, and individual performance improvement. He advises and speaks to audiences of founders and executives to increase their performance and the performance of their organizations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Igrew up in Central Pennsylvania in a household with my mom and dad and four siblings. My parents were also foster parents, and during my childhood, I remember 20 or 30 kids that would come in to stay with us — some for a couple of nights, others for a couple of years. My parents made sure that we understood, no matter how long they stayed with us that they were family. We weren’t well off by any stretch, but they always made sure we were taken care of and tried to do the same for others. Looking back, my childhood gave me a foundation built on the importance of family, gratitude, and empathy for others.

My father was a Korean War veteran. As a black man coming of age as a black man during the civil rights movement, he used many of his life experiences as a way to instill values in us — self-pride, respect, humility, and discipline. He was also a multisport athlete in his day. He played pro football in the CFL, too. He is the reason I play sports. Growing up, it was the way we connected. He was my coach in football, basketball, and track all the way through middle school. His rules were simple:

  • If you start it, you will finish it. There is no quitting.
  • Be the best you can be at whatever it is you do.

He would always urge me to dream big, as long as I was willing to put in the work to go and achieve. He never pushed me to play sports. But once I committed to playing, he pushed me to be the best. He passed away suddenly at the beginning of my freshman year of high school, but those two simple rules also became part of the foundation of how I would attack the rest of my football career and life.

After my father passed, my mom and I became really close. All of my older siblings were away, and I became the man of the house at 14. It was a tough time, but we got through it together. Watching her continue to be selfless and push through — to persevere — is where I learned the meaning of fighting through adversity. She became the person that I drew all of my inspiration from; I made it my mission to make her proud of everything I did in my life.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete?

My father was the reason I started playing football at age 7. He was my coach, trainer, nutritionist — everything. The work ethic he demanded from me as a young kid laid the foundation for the rest of my life. Even though I lost him at 14, the work ethic and mentality to set goals continued to drive me through high school, college, and into the pros.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

It wasn’t funny then, but in retrospect, I remember the last playoff game I played in the 2013 season. We were playing the Seattle Seahawks on the road in the Divisional round. The game was sloppy and the weather was crazy — we got about 4 or 5 different types of rain in one afternoon.

We were trailing most of the game, but started to mount a comeback in the second half. In the 4th quarter we were down by two touchdowns with the ball. We ended up driving down the field. I caught the ball for a touchdown that pulled us to within one score. With not much time left, we had to kick an onside kick. We kicked the ball, it bounced 2 or 3 times, and somehow I was able to recover it and get us the ball back. At this point, I had set a team record, scored the last touchdown, and recovered the onside kick within a couple minute span to give us a chance.

We got down to the last play of the game — total desperation time. We had one, maybe two plays left, and needed to score a touchdown to tie the game up. Our options were limited. It was either throw a Hail Mary or run another desperation play we had practiced.

As bad as the loss hurt, and as much blame as I wanted to place on my shoulders, the reality is that my team wouldn’t let that happen. We practiced, we were prepared, and it didn’t work. That was it. That’s how the folks that invested the most and had the most to lose approached it. As long as those who you choose to lock arms with believe in the process and have unwavering trust,

Did you ever get a serious sports injury? Do you feel comfortable sharing that story? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that incident?

In the 2012 season, we were playing the 49ers at home in Week 12 of the season. I ran a route across the middle and jumped to catch a pass that was pretty high in the air. As soon as the ball hit my hands, I got hit in my legs and got upended. It was a pretty bad looking fall and while most people were concerned I had a head/neck injury, many don’t know I actually broke my wrist when I landed.

With another five games left in the season, I had to make a choice, have season-ending surgery, or figure out a way to keep playing. In high-performance industries like pro sports, the standard is the standard. No one really wants to hear about reasons why your production falls off. In my case, I had to figure out how to perform at the highest level with a significant chink in my armor.

I met with the surgeon and we put together a plan. I had to evolve on the fly and alter the way I caught the ball. The season finished and I was just as productive and nobody knew the difference.

As someone with a background in ‘wellness’ I’m interested in stories about interesting wellness experiences. Do you have a story about the weirdest or most humorous wellness experience, treatment, practice, or practitioner that you’ve ever partaken in? If you do, we’d love to hear it.

About halfway through my career, I started to turn to more holistic medicine to try and maintain and preserve my body. I would add a new technique or modality every offseason to my regimen, including buying a hyperbaric chamber and infrared sauna that I kept at my house. I had practically built an entire training room at my house, and in 2011 it got put to the test. In the first game of the season, in a contract year, broke my collarbone.

I had surgery the following day and then started on a daily routine that included sleeping in my hyperbaric chamber at home every night, traditional physical therapy, chiropractic work, and deep tissue massage and myofascial manipulation. I missed two weeks and was back in the lineup by Week 4. I went on to have one of my best seasons as a pro.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you tell us the story of your transition from a professional athlete to a successful business person?

I began to look into business opportunities off the field in my fifth year playing in the NFL. After five years of my world revolving around football year-round, I wanted to find something that would stimulate me mentally, but also allow me to unplug from the constant grind of thinking about football. The first business that I sunk my teeth into was a pro indoor football team in my hometown in Pennsylvania.

I understood football operations intimately as a current player and tried to use that knowledge to shorten the learning curve on the business operations side. After spending a year as an investor, learning the business, I jumped into a management role in year two. As the President and GM, I ran ticket sales, sponsorships, and marketing while pitching in on the football operations side from time to time. The learning curve was steep and sales were especially humbling for me. Prospects didn’t really care what I did for a living as a player, they were more interested in how their spend with my team would provide an ROI. Once I started to understand the value that people were searching for, it allowed me to merge my understanding of the sports world as a player with my burgeoning business skills to create winning partnerships that helped propel my organization forward.

Looking back, that transition felt a lot like my rookie year. I believed I belonged there, but the belief wasn’t enough. It took a level of humility to admit the areas of the business where I needed to learn. However, just like on the field, I was committed to putting in the work and letting the work and the progress speak for itself.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?

  • Last year, I became a partner, as well as the Director of Business Development, at Main Squeeze Juice Co., a New Orleans-based fast-casual juice and smoothie bar franchise that currently has 12 locations open and operating in two states. The franchise also has nearly 50 additional franchisee- and corporate-owned stores in various stages of development throughout the Southeast.
  • I also recently became an early investor in the fast-growing cannabis industry. I’m a primary investor and advisor to Timeless Herbal Care Limited, a Jamaica-based grower and distributor of legal marijuana. I have taken a leading position in developing the company’s expansion strategy, including oversight of a US-based joint venture responsible for the development of low-THC cannabidiol (CBD) products for clinical trials to reduce opioid use.
  • I have a profound interest in giving back to the community and bring together my interests in health and wellness, tech, and entrepreneurship through my support of educational programs that allow me to share my success with others. In 2018, I partnered with Columbia Business School to create an executive education program for current and former athletes. More recently, I partnered with my alma mater, Hofstra University, to establish the Marques Colston Fellowship to develop experiential learning programs for student-athletes pursuing health careers.
  • I have been a featured speaker at several business conferences and summits sharing my insights on business success, leadership, team building, and individual performance improvement. I advise and speak to audiences of founders and executives to increase their performance and the performance of their organizations.

Do you think your experience as a professional athlete gave you skills that make you a better entrepreneur? Can you give a story or example about that?

I believe entrepreneurship, at its core, is built on competition and innovation. Whether you are trying to launch a new idea or concept or trying to make an existing concept better, as an entrepreneur you are always trying to find and exploit a competitive edge to the benefit of your company.

As an athlete, I had to learn how to reinvent myself as age caught up to me and my physical abilities started to diminish. Most would call it re-invention, but it really is the ability to innovate. I had to find ways to overcome physical limitations by learning to study my opponents’ strategies and understanding their goals and objectives better. By doing that, it allowed me to mentally be a step ahead and use anticipation as a strategy.

Every athlete that has to go through a similar re-invention process, which is most, shows the ability to assess the competitive landscape and innovate around their skills and abilities to find the right value proposition to get the job done.

Most athletes have not been able to transfer their success from the sports arena to the business arena. But you have. Can you share with our readers three main strategies you have used to help you succeed?

Much of success after sports is the ability to harness the same intangibles and mental approach that helped you become an elite athlete in the first place. Yes, many are born with physical gifts. But the players that are able to sustain success over a period of time develop a mental edge that highlights and augments whatever physical gifts they may have been born with. The athletes that have had successful second careers have been able to harness those same intangibles into businesses that keep the competitive fire lit.

For me, the ability to play at the highest level for 10 years was built on three core pillars: Ambition, Mastery, and Consistency.

  • Ambition. Continue to set ambitious goals that exceed expectations. Part of the makeup of a professional athlete is the built-in challenge of doing what most believe is impossible. That part of you shouldn’t perish just because you finish with one phase of your life.
  • Mastery. Don’t just work to get the job done- become a master of your craft. If you can learn everything about your individual role, and how it complements the bigger picture, it allows you to unlock more creative ways to create value — for yourself and your team.
  • Consistency. Work daily to develop positive habits. This simple concept is all about the execution. It takes a high level of commitment, humility, and patience because you have to approach each day as a clean slate. You have to earn it every day. If you can commit yourself to consistent, incremental progress you will succeed.

In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers two self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

  1. One of the things that has become more important to my routine has been sleep. It gets pretty difficult at times to find 5–6 hours of sleep when trying to juggle multiple businesses, my family life, and find personal downtime.
  2. As a former athlete, my physical fitness will always be an important part of my life. It looks a lot different than when I played because the purpose is completely different. I don’t need to perform anymore, I need to be healthy. I make time for myself to workout 3–4 times a week, with a focus on cardio and HIIT workouts. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning to get the day started.

Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

  1. Over the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the car and on the train during commutes from my home to Philly and New York City. I’ve started to listen to audiobooks during my commutes as a way to continue learning other perspectives and gain valuable insights. It has become a casual way to digest information in a time that would otherwise be filled with music. My latest audiobook has been “From Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
  2. I try to carve out a night every couple of weekends when everyone else has gone to sleep to pour a glass of scotch and head to my man cave in the basement to relax and unplug mentally.

Finally, can you share with us two routines that use to help your heart, your emotional or spiritual life to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

  1. My family is the most important thing to me, and they are why I work the way that I do. My wife and I started to spend a night a week with the kids (5 and 7) either watching a movie together or playing board games. We pop some popcorn, throw on a PG movie and enjoy each other’s company.
  2. One thing that has become increasingly important for me is finding ways to focus and create more efficiency because I am always working on more than one project. Mindfulness training has helped me reel in my thoughts and become more intentional with my thoughts and actions. I make sure to bookend my day by starting the morning with a training session to set the tone and end the evening with a session to relax and unwind before going to sleep.

You’re a high achieving business leader, and you also have family and loved ones that may require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the executive at the door, and be the most loving family member at home?

Playing football has helped me figure out how to navigate the work/life balance and check the emotions of the day at the door. As a player with young kids, they had no idea when there was a big win or a crushing loss, they were just happy to see dad walk in the door.

I’ve been able to bring that same approach into the business world. The only difference is that my phone has become an extension of work. I’ve gotten used to wrapping up my day at the office before I get home, and using the “Do Not Disturb” function more. With travel and managing multiple ventures at once I may not be at home as much as I want, but when I am there I try to be present.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As someone who wasn’t a great student, I would love to see education become more personalized and focused on developing skills that help students experience the things they are really passionate about. The traditional school setting is not for everyone, myself included. I was always pretty good in math, but looking back if I had the ability to feed my passion to build and explore technology, the experience would have been a lot more engaging and meaningful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“My Plan B is that Plan A has to work”

This thought process is what allowed me to enter a small school like Hofstra University as an under-recruited prospect, and leave as an NFL draft pick.

My mom always supported my goal of playing in the NFL, but would always tell me I needed a Plan B. As much as I believed in myself, I knew she was right to a degree. So, I did what I had to do in the classroom and graduated on time.

However, I knew that my degree was really a formality for me. In my sophomore year, I made a commitment to myself that my path was going to be NFL or bust. I devoted all of my energy to achieving this goal, and thinking about another pathway would only allow doubt to creep into my mind. So, eventually, I told her that my Plan B was that Plan A had to work. It didn’t go over well at first, but when she saw my commitment she began to understand how serious I was.

What are the best ways our readers can follow you on social media?

IG/Twitter: @marquescolston

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