Preparation for life after football came for former Falcons defensive back Jason Webster in his first year of youth football.
Playing in an 11-on-11 league, Webster and his team could only field nine players, so they rolled with what they had. Every player was needed to play both ways, so health was a premium, so much so that Webster and his teammates had to play a certain way to avoid injury and continue playing.
As a young player who would go on to have a nine-year career in the NFL, Webster was one of the better players on his team and at running back, he carried much of the load, but he didn't always run smart. He took a beating and eventually his coach told him he had to use the sidelines. The sidelines were his friend and it's a lesson he's carried with him all the way through football and into his post-playing days as the Atlanta Falcons team chaplain.
"I'm the sidelines for the players that can help give them encouragement," Webster said recently at the Falcons' Career Symposium. "If they want to, I can hold them accountable. If they want, I can schedule Bible studies and chaplain services. I'm a guy that has been there and been in their shoes. I'm walking this like with them being the man I was created to be."
During his playing days, Webster thought football was what he was created to do and for a long time it was. Drafted in the second round in 2000 by the 49ers, Webster's career lasted until 2008 when one final injury caused him to leave football for good after three games with the Patriots.
Strangely enough, it was the Falcons' chaplain, James Trapp, during Webster's stay in Atlanta that led him to consider what his post-career plans were. The cornerback credits Trapp and others looking after him with always reminding him to think about life beyond football because, as Webster explains it, the suddenness of everything involved in football means too often there's little else to think about, especially when it's all you've done for so long in your life.
"You can't really think of yourself as something outside of a football player," Webster said. "(They) helped me by encouraging me and getting back to the basics of asking yourself what you were made to do. 'What's my purpose in life?' Football was the outlet I had for expression."
Webster joined the Falcons in 2004 as a free agent but injuries stunted his time in Atlanta. In '04 he had nine starts in 10 games with 40 tackles and one interception. He experienced his best season with the Falcons the following year when he started 13 of 15 games with 91 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception. Injuries returned to limit him to seven games started in 2006.
He moved on to the Bills in '07 but a broken arm ended his season in Week 1 and he finished up his career with the Patriots the following season.
Out of the game in '09, Webster followed a path that led him back to the Falcons, taking over for his former mentor Trapp in 2011. Now he stands on the sidelines and serves as the sidelines to every Falcons player and those sidelines offer up a great view to a really good team, even if he was heartbroken for his players when their 2012 run to the Super Bowl ended 10 yards shy.
"They've got a good group," Webster said. "A good group at the top. Coach Smith is a great leader. Thomas (Dimitroff) and that whole staff, they have great talent. You've got to have talent to win. I think the sky's the limit for them."