By Jeff Shearer
Auburntigers.com Senior Writer
By the time high school seniors have played their last football game, they've heard hundreds of chalk talks and pep talks.
The temptation to tune out when being spoken to is real.
That's what made Rob Pate's recent remarks so...remarkable.
His audience: 80 of the best seniors in Alabama and Mississippi, along with their parents and coaches.
The occasion: a banquet on the eve of the 29th Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Pate was an All-SEC safety and four-year starter for Auburn from 1997-2000. As a senior at Erwin High School, he served as a captain for Alabama's All-Stars. Now, he was back at the prestigious event, this time as an honorary captain.
In his 10-minute address, Pate's 10-point presentation so captivated the crowd, it was as if he were the quarterback in the huddle in the final minute of a tie game.
Rob's combination of credibility - he had been in their cleats - and content created a teachable moment for the All-Stars.
Pate shared lessons learned in athletics. He also shared his strong faith openly and without reservation.
Here, with Pate's permission, are excerpts of his All-Star address.
Congratulations to you players: I was a captain in this game 18 years ago...the year most of you were probably born.
What I hope to do tonight is to encourage you, to be realistic with you and to challenge you to use the talent and position God has blessed each of you with from this point on.
1. First and most importantly-Center your life around God. You've been trained to center your life on yourself. Take it from me...that's a house of cards that will not stand. You will fail. You are not perfect and no one expects you to be except you. Be strong enough to be vulnerable enough to surrender and live your life for the God, who brings meaning to life. If that's news to you or you struggle there or you want to discuss this further then stop me this weekend and get my number and we will talk it through.
2. Choose your friends wisely. As your world gets bigger, make sure your world gets smaller at the same time. Show me your friends and I'll show you your direction. I promise big-time boosters, agents and Twitter followers are not your friends.
3. Be your own advocate. You are much more than just a football player. Make it your goal to get your degree no matter what. It can never be taken away from you like football can and will be.
4. Have fun and stay hungry. This is a fun time in your life. A memorable time. Most of you will be playing a sport that millions of people would love to play. You will develop friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. Enjoy the moment. But stay hungry. Some of you bloomed a little later than others. Some of you are sitting out here and competing with guys this week ranked 1 or 2 or 3 stars ahead of you. You're playing with a chip on your shoulder. You're showing coaches and other players you are every bit as capable and deserving of recognition and an opportunity. You don't have SEC offers because you're a few inches shorter or you played out of position for your team.
Don't lose that fire. It will carry you further than any 5-star talent ever will and it will carry you further in life. And you 5 stars...someone is always nipping at your heels. Lose your hunger and edge and you will be surpassed. You have all the physical tools to be successful...don't make the mistake of overlooking the importance of work ethic, hunger and a mentality of hard work.
5. Expect change because it will come. Not a single one of you will play for the same coaching staff your entire career. Many of you will play positions you didn't sign up for. You will have teammates who transfer. You may transfer. You'll all play on teams that win more games than they should. You'll all play on teams that will lose more games than they should. Change is inevitable.
6. Expect adversity because it will come. Tough times always come. Whether it's in the classroom, on the field, family problems, relationship issues, injuries that derail you. You will have setbacks. All of you. How you respond to them will separate who succeeds and who does not.
7. Keep in touch with your teammates from this game. No one understands what you're going through like someone going through very similar circumstances at the same time. Your school choice doesn't matter. Rivalries don't trump relationships. Stay in contact with each other to lean on each other and learn from each other and to help each other through the rigors and challenges of college life. You can help each other if you choose to.
8. Keep in touch with your families, your high school coaches and teammates. No one knows you better and will keep you grounded more than those guys. They are your link to your athletic past. They will be motivation for you to play hard because you are living the opportunity they never received. Whether you realize it or not...You are playing for more than yourself.
9. From this point forward, consider yourself on a long-term job interview. Nothing you do goes unnoticed. You choose to be selfish and you will burn bridges in an instant with the very people who can help you and your future. Very few of you will play football long enough to not have to have a career to fall back on. In fact I'll go so far as to say none of you will. Get your degree. Do what's right and you will be rewarded, I assure you.
10. Have an eternal perspective. The next four or five years will be over and done with before you blink. You will blink and one of you will be standing here 18 years from now advising another group of elite athletes in this All-Star Game. Blink again and all that matters now is 'Did you love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength and did you love your neighbor as yourself?' Major in the things that matter in life.
You guys going to Auburn...War Eagle...you're now a brother to me. You will bleed and fight for the same logo and colors I did. You will love your school.
You guys going elsewhere...you're my brothers too...because you're entering into a fraternity few do, and I respect you and will look on with pride at the accomplishments you achieve, knowing fully the price that was paid to attain them.
You guys playing in your last game ever...know that high school football is football in its purest form. No matter what level of this sport you climb to, nothing compares to Friday nights. It just doesn't. Use the lessons and leadership skills football has taught to tackle your future.
Best wishes tomorrow. Best wishes to your futures. And God Bless you all!
Seated near the stage were Rob's wife, Dana (Class of 2001, Education), and their five children. Junior high and high school sweethearts at Erwin, Rob and Dana married after their sophomore year at Auburn.
The Pates are moving back to Auburn from their hometown of Birmingham.
An optometrist, Dr. Rob Pate is accepting new patients at Basden EyeCare in Auburn.
"The education I received through sports is the backbone of who I am, and there is not a day that passes I'm not immensely grateful for the coaches, teammates, and support personnel who had a hand in pushing me to achieve successes I could never fathom on my own," Pate said. Just like he did on the field, Pate continues to earn honors, including the American Optometric Association's Young Optometrist of the Year in 2014.
"There is not a day that passes I do not draw from lessons learned or benefit from behaviors adopted in athletics," Rob said. "And Auburn University has been instrumental in providing the infrastructure for this to occur."