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Redskins Hall-of-Famer Darrell Green joins UMW sports staff in Fredericksburg

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CONNOR FINNERTY was walking across the University of Mary Washington campus Thursday afternoon when he was stunned to see a familiar face.

Finnerty, a junior baseball player at UMW, grew up in Fairfax, and his family has owned Washington Redskins season tickets for generations. His favorite player was Darrell Green—the man who suddenly stood in front of him.

“I immediately started calling all my friends and my dad,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”

It’s probably not the last time their paths will cross—not after Green accepted a position with the Eagles’ athletic department.

Almost 30 years to the day that he was drafted by the Redskins, Green became UMW’s special assistant for student–athlete development and public relations.

Adding a Hall of Famer “brings instant credibility, especially in the greater D.C. region,” UMW athletic director Ken Tyler said. “He identifies the University of Mary Washington with excellence, with doing things right. You can point to our affiliation with Darrell Green as a great example of running a first-class program.”

Green, who played 20 seasons at cornerback for the Redskins before retiring in 2002, is quite a “get” for UMW.  But he actually approached Tyler about joining the staff through a mutual acquaintance last fall after his three children completed their education and moved out of the family’s home. (His son, Jared, who played at Virginia before transferring to Southern University, is now on the roster of the Redskins’ rival, Dallas.)

Once known as the NFL’s fastest man, Darrell Green originally considered helping coach the Eagles’ track teams. But after meeting with Tyler, he said, “I saw there was so much more that I wanted to do.”

Green had visited UMW’s campus during his travels, and it reminded him of his alma mater, Texas A&I University (now called Texas A&M–Kingsville), where he went from non-scholarship walk-on to first-round draft choice and Super Bowl champion.

“There was so much more [at UMW] than I thought there was,” Green said.

He and Tyler hammered out a one-year contract with a role that will allow him to keep his home in Leesburg and commute

south on a frequent basis—and they managed to keep it a secret until Thursday. Green will consult with UMW’s athletes on matters on and off the playing field, including academics and life lessons.

Said Tyler: “What an unbelievable role model and example for our student athletes.”

Long before his playing days ended, Green founded the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, a nonprofit, faith-based organization that works with at-risk youth in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Even if UMW’s athletes don’t have the same issues as low-income pre-teens—and even if he’s more relevant to their parents than he is to today’s college students—he feels he has something to impart.

“I’m good at what I do, and I say that humbly,” he said. “I can go into a place, and there will be an 18-year-old who can quote you everything you’ve ever heard about me, and there’ll be another 18-year-old who’ll say, ‘Who’s he?’ In this time, the reality is, it doesn’t take long to find out who you are, good or bad.”

It’s harder, though, to find a Darrell Green detractor. He played in six Pro Bowls and holds Redskins records for career interceptions (54), games played (295) and defensive touchdowns (eight). He’s the only player in NFL history to intercept a pass in 20 straight seasons and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Besides his role as a role model, he also stands to help UMW in a couple of other key areas: fundraising and diversity recruiting.

Tyler is completing his first year as AD and has made a point of securing corporate partners for the athletic program, which he calls “the front porch” of the university because of its visibility. Green may stand just 5-feet-8, but he has a stature few athletes anywhere can match.

Tyler said at least one major fundraising event is being planned between now and the start of the 2013–14 school year, and Green will be front and center.

The university is also striving to attract more minorities, both for its sports teams and its general student population, and Green’s presence won’t hurt.

On another topic close to his heart, Green thinks the Redskins don’t necessarily have to draft secondary help this weekend. (“The kids they have are talented, but you see little development in these guys, in my opinion,” he said.)

And he’d like to see Washington scrap the read-option offense that worked for most of 2012 but ended with rookie of the year Robert Griffin III tearing several knee ligaments and putting his status for 2013 in question. (“If they try to go that route, they’re going to have a lot of hurt kids,” he said. “I cringe a lot more now.”)

There was nothing but smiles, though, at UMW’s annual athletic department banquet Thursday night. Students gave Green a standing ovation, and several sang “Hail to the Redskins” when he was introduced.

Afterward, he posed for photos. Among the first in line was Haley Kane, a freshman field hockey player from Massaponax High School who got a Darrell Green jersey in fifth grade.

“Whenever we had jersey day in class, I always wore it to school,” she said.

Soon, she can get it autographed.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443