How I Thrive As An Athlete Turned Entrepreneur: with Former NFL Pro Nolan Carroll

An Interview With Ming Zhao

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100% I most definitely feel that many things I learn on the football field translate to business. Working as a team in business is vital to grow because I am not the only one with ideas, the people I work with I make sure that the part they play is just as important as the part I play. I want associates of mine to know I am not above them or they below me. We are one team with one common goal in mind and we all need to stay aligned on that goal. It gives us purpose, a vision to accomplish what we set out to do. Just like an NFL team, if all 11 guys on offense and defense are not on the same page, you will have a hard time accomplishing anything or win any game. Anytime I get to use football to implement in business I use it full throttle because a team can take you farther than any individual can.

As a part of our series about how successful “athlete turned entrepreneurs” thrive both professionally and personally, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing former Dallas Cowboy Nolan Carroll. Nolan’s story of perseverance and determination continues to inspire and motivate anyone that listens to it. His seamless transition from the spotlight of playing football at the highest level in the biggest stages to now becoming a thought leader for athletes as well as music entrepreneurs alike is unprecedented. He is a fearless entrepreneur who dabbles in Tech, Music, Ice Cream and overall invest in “GOOD people with a passion and purpose”

Thank you so much for joining us, Nolan! Can you share a little about how you grew up?

I grew up in a small town of Green Cove Springs FL just south of Jacksonville Florida. Both of my parents are retired military. My dad was in the Air-force for 25 years and retired as a Senior Master Sargent. My mother was in the Navy for 20 years and retired as Lt Commander. My parents taught me a lot about being disciplined and working hard to get what you want. I used to see them sacrifice so much for me and my two siblings and I was always able to lean on them for anything. Even still I am a grown man with my own child and I am still there little boy so they do whatever it is they need to help and support me.

I thank them entirely because without them in my life I wouldn’t be here today.

I didn’t start off thinking about football. I knew about it but my mom didn’t want me playing so she put me in soccer and I really had a skill for it. That was my first love of sports and began to watch guys like Thierry Henry, one of my favorite players growing up, so I wanted to be like him a scoring machine. I started playing soccer when I was 5 and by the time I was 11 I had caught a lot of attention of many U14 teams and international club teams because my coaches we from soccer countries and taught me the way they would teach kids in Columbia, Mexico, Venezuela. My uncle also played club ball in the 60s in Trinidad so I got his help as well. My mother though thought my education was more important and rather me not travel or be in another country. To me I didn’t really care I was just happy to play and be out of the house not doing homework. I always felt school was important, but I could learn so much more from my friends or from observing the environment around me for lessons.

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

The person who jump started my career was my high school Coach, Ron Riddle. One day in PE class towards the end of my Freshman year in high school I was playing flag football. I didn’t get to play JV (Junior Varsity) football because of my grades and because I was responsible for taking care of my brother and sister when they got home from school because my parents worked late.

I was just playing around running by students in the class juking them, making crazy catches and scoring touchdowns. Well Coach Riddle saw this and came up to me and asked “Nolan why don’t you come out and play football? You know you can get good and get a scholarship and never have to pay for your education!”

When I asked my mother if I could go and try out for my high school team, she told me no, with no reasoning at all. I thought my aspiration to play high school football was over, but my coach struck a deal with my mother and I didn’t find out about this until almost a decade later.

Coach Riddle explained to my mother the importance of playing and how it could pay for my college and not have her take that burden on. His deal though with her was this: ”Give me 2 weeks with Nolan and come out to the next game we play. If he doesn’t score a touchdown you can take him off the field and he doesn’t have to play another snap of football again.”

When my coach told me that story, he later told me that when my mother was walking into the game, I was running down the sideline to score a touchdown. Coach Riddle said to my mom, “You see I told you he can be special”. My mom said, “I think you may be on to something.”

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?

There are so many moments that have been in my football life it’s so hard to pick one, but if I had to it would be my time in Philadelphia. Because of injuries as Linebacker in our defense I had to play that position to help out on defense, and it was super cool and fun because it was new, and I had more freedom to make plays. The thing that was funny though was when I first started playing the position, we played on Sunday night against the Giants and I come in and Eli is going through his adjustments and cadence. He takes a peek at me and is puzzled; he is wondering why I am smack dab in the middle looking at him around all these big linemen. He stops his cadence and changes to a run play directly at me.

After that more Quarterbacks began to do that and start to ID me as the main threat to blitz, mind you a linebacker is supposed to be at least 240 plus I was only 200 lbs. at the time. So anytime I faced a new QB I would always see their reaction to when they saw #23 down by the line of scrimmage, and I would always get a chuckle out of it because their facial expression they wouldn’t expect a Defensive Back here. I would always get a chuckle out of my teammates because when they saw me come in on a certain down, they knew it would be a run play or something towards me so they would always reply “Oh big boy package coming in.” I got a kick out of it as well until I had to take on a big lineman. I earned a lot of respect from my teammates for playing the role I did that year in 2014, because they saw I put the team first.

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?

I did have a serious injury. I had a few in my career but this one was in 2015 when I was with the Eagles. I felt and a lot of others felt I had been playing the best football in my career at that point.

We were playing Thanksgiving Day against the Lions and I was going to make a tackle and then just remember feeling a lot of bodies and then feeling a lot of pressure going down my leg, and I immediately knew my ankle was broken. What I didn’t know was how severe it was. I tore 3 ligaments and broke my fibula bone close down to my ankle.

When that happened, I heard rumblings and rumors that my own coaches and people in the organization didn’t believe I could come back and play football again. Little did they know when I lay on the turf at Ford Field in Detroit that I had made a decision, to not only get better, but to come back with a force that no one would have expected except for myself. I ended up starting every game the following season (16 games) and was able to get another contract from the Dallas Cowboys, because I refused to listen to the ones that doubted me and didn’t think I was capable.

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.

I do have two people that really introduced me to the holistic world of medicine. One was my former Head Coach Chip Kelly and the other is now one of my best mentors I know.

His name is Doctor Shin. I met Doc because throughout my career in Miami where I was drafted until I got to Philadelphia, I had a lot of soft tissues problems, hamstring, groin pulls, quad pulls. I was introduced to him and through his own medicines that were holistic, he administered what he called ISM(Integrated Sports Medicine).ISM treatments activate the body’s natural healing abilities, and speeds up the recovery process and was allowing me to take heal properly.

Chip helped educate me on how to train hard and recover harder. With the proper routine with cold tubs, ice tubs, acupuncture and measuring our diet. Combining that with different measurement tools we used to let the coaching staff know our bodies each day through heart monitors, hydration test and wellness questionnaires Coach Kelly really help me be more in tune with my body and have the recognition to be able to prevent an injury and identity it before it arises.

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?

Yeah, I can share that, and by no means was it easy and it still isn’t. There were a couple things that happened almost simultaneously.

I remember a month after I was done playing, I pulled out my laptop and just began to search for things that may interest me, and learn about things I never took the time to know.

Through searching I landed on a crowdfunding page because I wanted to invest in something established and get the ball rolling there while I wanted to create my own business, whatever that may be.

The company I came across happened to be an alcohol Rum company called Yolo Rum, I am Trinidadian and Bahamian so Rum is in my blood. So I decided to invest and see where I could be a part of this company. Phil, Sam, and Wignz who are the owners of YoloRum, I reached out to them and asked how I can be a part and with welcoming arms they were happy to have me on board, and I have been assisting them getting the Yolo brand out to the public.

While that partnership with Yolo Rum was forming, another business associate of mine gave me an idea on a Coupon/Shop rewards app. When he showed me his idea I had just opened my own 3D printing store with my mother called Doob3D. I was having more difficulty then I thought to bring in customers, so I began to look for SEO and marketing companies to help assist me. The problem was that many of them were just lying about the services they can help bring to my store, driving traffic, numbers, and more eyeballs. I ended up making a mistake but it became an eye opening lesson for me. I saw that these companies did the bare minimum for these small business and took a big chunk of their earnings. I thought what if we take my business associate’s idea and turn it into an app and really focus on the business and the consumers saving money.

Thus CoinGoat was formed. Sounds a bit funny but that’s the point. One part of the name is earning money while you shop and save money in the process and create high traffic volume for businesses at low cost while establishing a business to consumer relationship. The word Goat is an acronym for Greatest of all Time. that’s where the name CoinGoat was created.

For the business it’s less money to pay for online advertising and have that audience they would like to target. Small businesses don’t want to take the time to market for themselves and normally want someone to help them but do not know which direction to go to get help. For customers it is about saving on shopping and earning rewards in a cash back program we created.

I have made the transition from football to business but it’s really been from wanting to search and learn about things out in this world that you may think you have the possibility to improve or change. So I just observe and then ask myself how can I help solve this problem.

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

Besides CoinGoat and YoloRum and the 3D printing store I invested in a few other companies, technology interests me a lot, so I began to look at tech news and new things that are being created. One company I invested in is an Ice Cream Kiosk machine called Reis and Irvys Ice Cream, it is a robotic machine that serves you Ice Cream. I have been aiming to put it in Children’s hospitals because I want to bring joy to the children and families however I can. I worked at the National Institute of Health when I was in college at the University of Maryland and when I was working there as an intern I saw how sad and down in the dumps these kids were. So the smallest things brought them joy and joy to the parents. That always stuck with me in my mind even after I graduated I always thought back to those kids and what things can we help them with to get their mind away from the stress of being in a hospital.

My other project I am working on is my Podcast and Youtube channel. Its with my best friend from elementary school who does radio back in our hometown of Green Cove Springs FL. It’s called “A Whole Lotta Nothing” I called it that to piggyback off of Seinfeld which was one of the shows I grew up watching that was literally a show about nothing but funny and that’s what I like my Podcast to be. I just want to highlight topics relating to music, sports and my sports experience , social issues going on in the world and business experiences I am going through now.

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?

100% I most definitely feel that many things I learn on the football field translate to business. Working as a team in business is vital to grow because I am not the only one with ideas, the people I work with I make sure that the part they play is just as important as the part I play. I want associates of mine to know I am not above them or they below me. We are one team with one common goal in mind and we all need to stay aligned on that goal. It gives us purpose, a vision to accomplish what we set out to do. Just like an NFL team, if all 11 guys on offense and defense are not on the same page, you will have a hard time accomplishing anything or win any game. Anytime I get to use football to implement in business I use it full throttle because a team can take you farther than any individual can.

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?

First off I seek to learn, reading has become big in my life recently I have read I think 13 books this year prior to that only 3 maybe.

The second is surrounding yourself with the right people who want to see you grow and not take advantage of you I see it happen all the time in business with athletes and have had it happen to myself.

The final one people will hate to hear but you have to embrace failure. What I mean by that is don’t be scared to make a mistake, make the mistakes now while you are young because life goes fast and you don’t want a hesitation stop you because your scared to fail and have people view you differently. Don’t worry about that as long as you do your due diligence and make a decision or take a step and it doesn’t workout or someone rejects you, that’s good that just means your closer to figuring out what will work for you and who wants to work with you. I always kept this saying in my mind. “When one door closes another one opens.”

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.

With my body I like to still train like it’s the off season for me, I want to feel athletic still. So I go to a buddy of mine’s gym in Miami called Elite U. He is a big SOB so he keeps me in shape and challenges me still as if I were playing. I think that is good because it keeps me in that spirit of improving and being challenged not only physically but to tell myself mentally at 32 I still can do it.

For my mind I like to just go in my backyard and meditate, and not the breathe in breathe out routine. More of the go outside and enjoy the sun the palm trees and just remind myself of the path I have been on and where it has taken me and the possibilities ahead, I have a big backyard so I am able to go to a bunch of different places to be at peace not have a phone with me and just remind myself that through all this madness I am creating I can still be peaceful.

For my heart it is the Bible,I struggle at times day to day managing all of these different things and there are some times where you ask yourself is this path I am on going to have a prize at the end? I just fall back on God’s word and his promises and that let’s me know giving him my problems and stress on my mind he will make it right so no longer have to worry.

(I know that was three but I saw mind, body and heart.)

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

For my mind I like to read, I think a lot of our answers are in books. I do though also like to still play FIFA, the video game. I know it’s a little weird but all the comprehensive work I do towards the businesses sometimes can run me down. When that happens I like to take a break and do one of two things go to my back room and play FIFA to get my mind away from it all. I also like to golf even though I am not Tiger Woods status yet. That allows me to reset my mind and get back on task and think clearly, I thinks it’s necessary to do things you enjoy to get your mind away from building and managing a business because it can get really stressful.

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.)

For me it’s my family. I like to talk to my brother and sister about a lot, and my parents, and ask them for advice. I am in the business world but mainly in part because of my mother getting me involved in business. I also like to attend church I go to Vous Church in Miami it’s non denominational.

I just like the atmosphere of our preacher Rich Wilkerson. I also have great friends there that check up on me and support me, it’s good to feel that energy. I travel a lot so whenever I get the chance to attend I do.

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?

You have to differentiate the two and remember who you are first. This was a challenge I was able to learn in the NFL. My family sacrificed a lot for me during my playing days, through my 8 years in the league they never missed a home game of mine. So for me to see that love first hand I am appreciative of that. For me leaving the locker room to see them I knew all the negative that may have gone on in practice or a game stays in the locker room when I am with my family and those problems stay there. Same mentality with business, when I see my family it’s all them business is on hold and I enjoy my time with them because they enjoyed putting their lives on hold to watch me play, week in and week out.

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. 🙂

Just help more retired NFL guys. I feel like we get help but not like what we should. I feel like when most players are out of the game, they don’t know their new identity and that scares them and they want their old selfs back and are somewhat hesitant and scared to embrace a new life. They always say football will end but you don’t really think about it until you’re really done.

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

I am a big Batman fan since a kid and Christopher Nolan creates the new Batman with Christian Bale and towards the end of the movie he said something that I still say now to many people. ”It’s not who I am underneath, it’s what I do that defines me.”

I can speak all day on what I wanna do but it’s just talk, people really measure you on when you speak and then go out and do it.

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

There are many ways; first is IG, Twitter my tag is @Carrollcity. Also again my Podcast and Youtube Channel.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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