Everyone walks a different path and has a unique story, especially athletes.
Elite athletes dedicate their lives to their sport, but what happens when it all comes to an end? Their commitment to their sport has been their identity for as long as they can remember. Now, their identity is a question mark.
For two former professional football players and current technical recruiters with Amazon, that statement could not have rung more true.
Once the reality of no longer playing in the National Football League set in, Benjamin Guidugli and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah had to consider their next steps—with or without football.
For Ben Guidugli, his journey began in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, a small town about five miles outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. After a standout high school campaign, Guidugli chose to follow in his brother, Gino’s footsteps, stay close to home, and play college football at Cincinnati where he majored in communications and met his wife, Carla.
Guidugli was a three-year starter as a tight end for Cincinnati and went on to be signed by the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2011. After a year with the Rams at fullback and a quick stint with the New York Giants in 2013, he quickly transitioned into sales with a local car dealership in his wife’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, where she was teaching at a local middle school.
Guidugli with a carry against the Kansas City Chiefs during a game in 2011.
Owusu-Ansah (left) and Guidugli (right) pictured at the Great Wall of China in September 2019.
After three and a half years of gaining experience that would prove to be beneficial down the road, the former fullback knew he did not want to be a car salesman the rest of his life and looked to his trainer, Cliff Marshall and a former teammate, Tyjuan Hagler for advice. They encouraged him to participate in a program the NFL Player Engagement department puts on with the help of Ascending Athletes called the NFL Bridge to Success.
The NFL Bridge to Success is designed to empower and equip eligible former players and their significant others through the transition from the NFL mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially, and equip them for the next season of life. This is accomplished by providing them with the tools and peer-to-peer support to navigate the transition into post-NFL life.
“I’ll be honest,” said Guidugli. “I did not want to go. I did not know what to expect but I knew I did not want to go and sit around and share how I was feeling with people I did not know. But they kept urging me to go, so my wife and I went.”
By the end of the event in Dallas, Texas in October of 2016, the Guidugli’s were so thankful they participated. Not only did doors open for Ben to catapult into his career with Amazon, but his wife, Carla, was also able to relate to so many other wives whose husbands were going through the same transition. They realized it was okay to feel the emotions they felt and know they were not in this process alone.
Guidugli also knew that as a father of six, he needed a sustainable job to be able to take care of his family. He found that stability with Amazon and made the move to Seattle alone in January 2017. Unlike following a straight line in the NFL, the former fullback found the excitement and joy in the opportunity to pick his own path. But as the saying goes, talent attracts talent. With Carla and the kids still back in Ohio, Amazon looked at his situation and instead of helping his family transition in the summer and have Carla continue teaching, they saw her skillset as an asset to the company and decided to hire her as well. The Guidugli’s now reside in Kenmore, Washington, grateful for their careers and the decision they made to participate in the NFL Bridge to Success years ago.
Owusu-Ansah (left), Carla Guidugli (middle) and Guidugli (far right) pictured at the NFL Bridge to Success in San Diego, Calif. in October 2019.
Meanwhile in Columbus, Ohio, two hours away from Cincinnati, pursuing a similar dream of playing college ball was Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.
Despite not being highly coveted out of high school, Owusu-Ansah never succumbed to anything less than the growth mentality. Embracing this mindset, he took his talents to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He used the dejection of not going to a bigger program as his prime motivation and determination to reach the next level of success. He was never out to prove anyone wrong or even prove that he could play in the NFL; rather, it was more of the motivation from within, believing in himself and his abilities to pursue other dreams. Nevertheless, he has had a great support system along the way, especially from his family.
“I like to think I was in different circumstances coming from a smaller school,” said Owusu-Ansah. “My mindset was always focused on my transition away from the game and being a true student-athlete.”
It was not until the summer before his senior year at IUP that the cornerback really gave the NFL a second thought. The Columbus, Ohio native was a two-year starter, a two-time All-PSAC selection (2008, 2009), a Second Team Division II All-American in 2008, a First Team Division II All-American in 2009 and went on to become a fourth-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys in the 2010 NFL Draft.
After being drafted higher than expected, he became 100 percent invested in his playing career and his mindset of life after football was put on the back burner. However, just as he got accustomed to the NFL lifestyle, a call from the Cowboys’ front office jolted him back to reality.
“My first time being cut, I was sitting in the parking lot of Jason’s Deli on MacArthur Boulevard in Irving, Texas,” Owusu-Ansah said. “I remember feeling like my world was crashing around me. What am I going do now? It was the wakeup call I needed and the biggest blessing in disguise to remind me to never forget the bigger picture – there is life after football.”
The former cornerback continued to pursue his football career with a new mentality – “never get too high on the highs and never get too low on the lows.”
From Dallas, he went on to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2011), a second stint with the Dallas Cowboys (2012), the Oakland Raiders (2012), and the New Orleans Saints (2013) before his final campaign with the Detroit Lions in 2013. No matter what team he was on, he always made it his mission at each stop to get fully acquainted with the team’s director of player engagement and take advantage of any opportunities outside of football that would help set him up for success down the road.
Like Guidugli, Owusu-Ansah also participated in the NFL Bridge to Success program just one year later in Phoenix, Arizona. He, too, was extended an invitation to fly to Seattle to participate in a formal interview with Amazon but knew in his heart he was not ready to give up football. He went on to play one more season in the Canadian Football League before hanging up his cleats.
Owusu-Ansah with an interception against the Washington Redskins during a game in 2010.
The biggest challenge in a transition? Filling the emptiness that the game of football leaves. If he wasn’t a professional football player anymore then what on earth could he do that would ever fill that void?
The former defensive back transitioned into a role as an academic counselor with the student-athletes at Western Carolina University – a position that kept him connected to the game. However, when an opportunity with Amazon resurfaced, Owusu-Ansah made the decision to pursue a career with the American global technology company and moved to Seattle.
Owusu-Ansah (left) and Guidugli (far right) pictured with one of Amazon’s Software Development Managers of the Beijing, China office in Septemeber 2019.
Another challenge during the transition phase is finding your way in a new environment. Thankfully, with Guidugli already a two-year veteran at Amazon, he stepped into a mentorship role and was the instant lifeline Owusu-Ansah needed to get acclimated into his new position. Guidugli found a new purpose in tapping into his existing knowledge, skills, and experience and transferred his skillset to Owusu-Ansah in order to help him advance his new career. The game of football establishes positive and trusting relationships and having gone through similar experiences in the NFL, it was easy for the two former pros to relate to one another and connect right off the bat.
“It’s a little scary,” said Owusu-Ansah. “You are taking that jump and are unsure what it’s going to look like, but then all of a sudden there is a hand there to help pull you up. It creates that instant connection that was once had on the field; that sense of security and knowing someone has your back and best interest at hand makes it a confident transition.”
The two have also been on numerous international trips together to China and Australia, helping find the next best talent to recruit for Amazon and now serve as the Amazon representatives for the NFL Bridge to Success program encouraging former players on their journeys to discovering their next moves.
“It’s a pleasure to come back to the event, having been one of the guys on the other side of the table,” said Guidugli. “Being able to reconnect with the football guys and be on the other side of the table now, having the opportunity to talk to future Amazon employees about our company and opportunities we can offer, is very fulfilling.”
It did not take long for the two to prove themselves within the company either. At the beginning of this year, they, along with two other former players, were selected by Amazon Recruiting Leader Taryn Little to participate in a panel discussion broadcasted internally to Amazon employees in front of 200 Amazon employees at company headquarters in Seattle, Washington and share their experience from playing in the NFL to transitioning into the business world.
“We have hired numerous former players and spouses through the NFL Bridge to Success program,” said Little. “The same characteristics of resourcefulness, ambition, and drive that made all of them successful professional athletes are the same values helping them be successful, customer-obsessed, and valued Amazon employees.”
L to R: Jameson Konz, Guidugli, Owusu-Ansah and Dan Moore participated in a panel discussion hosted by Amazaon Recruiting Leader Taryn Little in January 2020.
The best advice they both can give to those still playing and to the others going through the transition is that it is okay to feel defeated and discouraged but do not let yourself stay there and self-isolate. Those difficult times were the catalyst to the most profound learning experiences.
They encourage players to use the many resources provided by the NFL and Ascending Athletes and take advantage of opportunities while they are playing. Be humble enough reach out for help. It is important to stay driven and continuously network throughout their careers and when they are done, to fall back on that network. Do not be afraid to expand outside of their comfort zone and ultimately know they are not alone. That feeling of self-worth, being valued and sense of accomplishment will return. The same way they pursued football is the same determination needed to find success in their next chapter.
For Guidugli and Owusu-Ansah, they continue to build on the brotherhood that they have established through playing in the National Football League. Although they never played on the same football team, they have become the ultimate teammates at Amazon and have helped each other find new identities and create their own success. They are proof that athlete transition isn’t just about finding a job; it’s about discovering who you are outside of your sport.
Owusu-Ansah (back left) and Guidugli (right) served as representatives for Amazon during the NFL PCF Super Bowl Career Fair on February 1, 2020.