Leber tells SDFCA to enjoy journey of coachingSIOUX FALLS — Ben Leber is humbled by his support from South Dakotans. “You never know where things are going to go with your career, and it’s nice that there’s still a care from people back here that they want to see how their South Dakota guys are doing,” the former Minnesota Vikings linebacker said. “I’m very humbled still by the fact that people want to hear me talk.”
By: Brooke Cersosimo, The Daily Republic
SIOUX FALLS — Ben Leber is humbled by his support from South Dakotans.
“You never know where things are going to go with your career, and it’s nice that there’s still a care from people back here that they want to see how their South Dakota guys are doing,” the former Minnesota Vikings linebacker said. “I’m very humbled still by the fact that people want to hear me talk.”
Leber, a Vermillion native, was the special guest at the South Dakota Football Coaches Association’s 22nd Winter Football Clinic Friday at the Army National Guard in Sioux Falls.
“I don’t think I have an interesting story because it’s my life, but I respect it and am humbled by the fact that people do want to hear it,” Leber said.
Virg Polak, executive secretary of the SDFBCA, said the association wanted to bring someone in to speak who was available.
“We were very fortunate to get him,” Polak said. “He’s a hometown, South Dakota kid and he’s never forgotten where he came from. We’re lucky to have him.”
For Leber, it was the process he enjoyed for 15 years.
He shared stories of former teammates, and one in particular — Matt Birk, who is playing in the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens next weekend. Birk, an ex-Viking, said after beating New England Sunday that making the Super Bowl was underwhelming.
Most listeners were shocked, but Leber understood.
He emphasized that no matter what the ultimate goal — a win on Sundays or a championship ring for most NFL players — he found himself longing for the other six days of the week.
“Those are the days I loved,” Leber said. “I looked forward to Monday through Saturday because the game was all about the process.”
Along with the process of learning the game and enjoying time spent with teammates, coaches and fans, Leber challenged South Dakota coaches in the audience to evaluate themselves on a daily basis — on or off the field.
“I assessed myself as a player every night,” he said, “and don’t be afraid to ask yourself why you did something in the wrong. By doing that, I motivated myself to set another 24-hour personal goal the next day.”
This self-reflection bettered Leber and he said those changes were seen in the long run.
“I challenge coaches and people to not only self-reflect, but to be brutally honest with yourself,” he said. “Enjoy the process and challenge yourself and be honest with yourself, and there will be great things for everyone involved.”
Those 24-hour goals allowed Leber to be an accomplished football player. Vermillion football coach Gary Culver, who introduced his former player, mentioned Leber is “one of the .08 percentile” of high school football players in the country to play in professionally.
During Leber’s football days, he led the Vermillion Tanagers to a state championship in 1995 and was recruited to play collegiately by Kansas State University.
In 2002, he was the 71st pick in the NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers. He played for the organization for four seasons.
Leber then played for the Minnesota Vikings for five seasons and finished his career in St. Louis with the Rams in 2011.
During his professional career, Leber played in a total of 143 games and recorded 498 combined tackles and 395 solo tackles. He made 24 career sacks and five interceptions.
Leber played in four playoff games, one with the Chargers and three with the Vikings. During the 2010 playoffs — a year where Minnesota came up short in losing to New Orleans in the NFC Championship game — Leber made 12 solo tackles and had an interception.
After all of the physical and mental bumps and bruises, Leber was ready for the next step — retirement.
“It’s been a huge adjustment but I am enjoying it,” he said.
Leber, of Minneapolis, is working for Fox College Sports and ESPN3 as a football commentator.
“It’s always nice to stay close to the game without being in the rigors of the game and some of the things I didn’t like at the end of my career,” said Leber, adding it was a challenge adapting to the media side of sports.
But perhaps his greatest adjustment with retirement is within himself.
“I never realized as a college and professional player for 15 years of my life, I didn’t have control over my life,” he said. “I didn’t have to set my schedule, and I didn’t have to worry about what my daily routine was going to be because in football everything is laid out so far in advance. To now kind of take control of your life is a big deal.
“It’s kind of funny to say that at 34 years old. It was a challenge when everything just stops and all of a sudden you’re in charge and it’s your responsibility to figure out what you do with your time and how to use it wisely, what you want to do next and how you’re going to get there.”