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With an NFL career spanning from 1998 to 2012, Takeo Spikes has enjoyed the kind of longevity that is rare among athletes. The two-time Pro Bowl linebacker, All-Pro appeared in 219 regular-season games serving as team captain 13 out of his 15 seasons of play. 

Suffice it to say, Takeo Spikes knows a thing or two about leading with excellence.

“I always had some type of leadership ability. But football was the first to bring it out. I learned to look at a group of guys at hand, and see who was going to stand out.”

That’s exactly what leadership is – seeing potential in others, and expanding upon those characteristics until they see and believe it themselves.”

A leader on and off the field, Takeo published his first book, Behind The Mask”- a collection of photographs and behind the scenes stories from a few of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game of football.

Photo: behindthemaskbook.com

The NFL legend turned sports’ analyst and philanthropist recently sat down with us for an exclusive interview giving key insights on the fundamentals of leadership, the necessity of service, and re-positioning oneself for maximum success at every phase of life. His book offers readers the often overlooked, but necessary leadership skills, including the following

Top Three Keys to Success:

Faith: Be so comfortable with yourself in knowing that you have a blueprint and can win regardless. Just know that you know what you know.

Focus: You need to have a hawk eye focus where you understand ‘I know I see distractions, but I’m going to put the blinders on as if I’m a horse. All I see is the prize.’

CommitmentBe unwavering in your focus and your actions.

Photo: Chip Litherland/Bloomberg Business

Faith, Focus, and Commitment…It is these 3 principles that kept Takeo grounded and moving forward as he transitioned from football star to successful author and philanthropist. 

You don’t have to be a NFL pro-baller to understand the necessity of pivoting directions in the span of ones career. When it comes time to retire one phase of purpose and enter another, many struggle with their sense of identity, relevance, and even income. Takeo took all of the above into account in preparation for life after football.

Takeo began his broadcasting career with national appearances on television and radio while still a player. This past football season, he served as the color commentator on ACC Network/Raycom and an analyst for SiriusXM’s NFL Radio. He has provided insights as a guest studio analyst for ESPN’s NFL coverage and numerous television and radio broadcasts, including CBS Sunday Morning, Showtime’s The Jim Rome Show, NBC Sports Network’s Pro Football Talk, among many, many others.

Photo: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

“I was prepping for life after football since my 4th year in the league. I didn’t know what life would look like [after football], but I at least started thinking about it.

The NFL PA does a good job at putting [higher ed] programs together for guys to participated in during the summer time. You just have to be willing to give up that free time. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Many guys aren’t willing to do so, but I was.”

Takeo credits his business classes at Stanford, Harvard, etc. for the exposure he needed to discern that there would indeed be an end to his football journey one day. He took his classroom time seriously, and even studied on his own dime and time. He learned the art of photography from his mentor Mike Moreland, a skill he would later use to develop his book.

Photo: Dewayne Rogers

With several career iterations from star athlete to media broadcaster to author and philanthropists, the dynamic nature of Takeo’s life trajectory is no coincidence. Spend a few minutes with him and his profound appreciation for the power of purpose, and what he coins “defining moments” becomes evident.  Here are just a few of the :Takeo-isms” we picked up in the span of our conversation:

“If who you are is what you have and what you have is taken from you, who are you?”

Takeo recalls growing up in a small rural town, where he fell in love with the game of football, and yearned to go to the next level. However, there was one small problem – he’d never seen anyone else make it .

“You can’t be what you don’t see”

At age 14, his father brought home a video tape of basic fundamentals of life and goal setting. Takeo was like a dry sponge, ready and willing to absorb any knowledge and positivity he could get ahold of. After watching the videos, the grind began. This small act sparked a major shift in his life. This was HIS defining moment.

“I wrote out my goals and looked at them everyday. The only person you can’t lie to is yourself. So my goals were the first thing I’d see in the morning, and the last thing I’d see at night.”

To maintain this standard of excellence, Takeo asked himself two questions every single day: Can I separate myself with consistency? Did I do everything I could do today to achieve my goals?

Photo: Dewayne Rogers

“Everything we do is a performance based business, including athletics,” he shared. If you are consistent in doing what you’re supposed to do, results will show when you have to compete or when you have to present in a boardroom. Can you wow the people in front of you? You will have an opportunity to shine. You just have to be ready. WORK! What you do in private will be displayed in public. Outwork people. Be strategic.”

Takeo reminds us that even when we work hard, we have to be aware that we are flawed human beings. Therefore, the mental grind is just as important as the physical.

“There’s me, and then there’s my alter ego. You can be whoever you want to be, but you’ve got to deal with that alter ego inside you. Whichever one you feed the most, will show. That’s the tale of two wolves…Watch your circle, too. Whoever you surround yourself with needs to be pushing and bettering the best parts of you.”

Photo: Chip Litherland/Bloomberg Business

It is those very practices, along with his 3 keys to success (Faith, Focus, and Commitment) that Takeo stresses to the participants of his TKO camp. TKO is an athletic camp that Takeo formed 17 years ago, in order to “bring visual, tangible efforts to the kids so that they can do “it” too.”

Now in their 15th consecutive camp year, Takeo and his fellow professional athlete friends spend their summers molding, coaching, and mentoring young men and women.

“A lot of work goes into it. I love what I do. I love to inspire. It’s really hard to explain [the feeling], but to know I’ve had 5 guys from camp go on to NFL from such a small 15,000 people town is amazing!”

Takeo prides himself on taking a very hands on personal interest in his student athletes. This makes it easy to understand why one of his favorite parts of the camp is “Chop Talk” sessions. He and other coaches often “chop it up” with each other off record about their issues and daily lives. The talks and program itself are indeed making an impact, and Takeo has heartwarming stories to prove it. He reflects on a young and talented, but trouble young man who he forced to attend camp.

“He came back this year, and told me that now that he was done playing [football], he has gone on about his life and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to wake up and realize that he has some self worth. “He said I brought structure and meaning to his life.”

Another young athlete told Takeo that her friends teased her, saying she was “too small to cheer.” Well, Takeo is proud to say that after attending the TKO camp, that young lady has quickly become the definite leader of the cheer squad. “The look in these kids’ eyes is just… amazing.”

Throughout his journey, Takeo has found that many athletes (and people) struggle with resilience, and are poorly equipped, mentally, to bounce back from a loss. Takeo wants them to know that they are more than a great (or not so great) game of football. Whether it is from writing his book, or working with his young athletes – Takeo has learned and appreciates the fact that everyone we encounter has a story.

Adversity comes in different shapes and sizes. Your’s won’t be the same as someone else’s.

The true test is not only if you get through it, but the resiliency you have during the process.

Can you embrace the not so good and use it as fuel? Be committed to the process, not the end result.

Embrace the journey first, and then you’ll get to the end result. Your life and journey is an artistic whiteboard, and you can paint it however you see fit.

With all that he has going on, we can only image how Takeo has managed to balance it all. When it comes to success, Takeo says that there is no such thing as a perfect balance.

Photo: Football Saturdays

“If you want to be the best, then you know that balancing scale has to be so heavy on your side with those top 3 keys (Faith, Focus, & Committed),” he shared. “If you know your passion, it makes you feel a way inside, then you have no other option. So maximize.”

We asked Takeo about what motivated him to become a first time author and the inspiration that launched his “Behind the Mask Movement.” Here’s what he had to say:

What is Behind the Mask Movement? 

The Movement, it’s really about sharing deep intimate stories all to inspire and motivate other people on how to become great. In life you can pretty much say you can be in the 90% range to be successful. Even if you don’t become a Hall of Famer. And that is how my book kind of relates to anyone who is traveling on a journey and trying to create something great want to separate themselves. You have to go through the valley in order to get to the mountains.

 What keeps you working so hard?

A big part of why I work so hard is my daughter. People only remember 60% of what you say, but remember 100% of what you do. The love that I have for her literally pushes me to be the best example I can for her, so when the question of “Why my dad does what he does?” arises, she can always refer back to my actions and know that I do what I do because I love her and continually inspire her.

What keeps Takeo Spikes motivated each day?

I realized at a young age that it requires no effort at all to wake up and be average. That’s when I knew it was vitally important for me to be mentally stimulated by adding challenging goals that would push me out of my comfort zone to make me excel. Everyday I wake up, I chase greatness. I look forward to a challenge.

When it’s all said and done, Takeo hopes to always be known as a man of substance… a man of courage. I think it’s safe to say that he is both of those things and much more.


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