When the San Francisco 49ers launched their first-ever Mentorship Academy back in 2014, only one school participated in it. The team traveled to Oak Grove High School in San Jose to teach the Eagles’ 60 football players how to be leaders on and off the gridiron.
Since that first trip to Oak Grove, five more iterations of the academy have passed, with each growing in size.
When 49ers PREP – the group behind this initiative – hosted its sixth-annual Mentorship Academy on Sept. 17, 60 football captains attended from 10 different schools.
In total, 350 kids have gone through this campaign since 2014. With full engagement from San Francisco’s 2019 rookie class – which included the likes of No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa and second-rounder Deebo Samuel – the students got to see that they aren’t any different from these NFL stars.
“[The high schoolers] are not separate from the NFL athlete,” said Jared Muela, director of 49ers PREP and fan engagement. “They face the same trials and tribulations and can give good insight into how to be successful. That was what we wanted to do – connect everybody across the football family and the football landscape to support each other.”
After seeing the connections made between the 49ers and Oak Grove players in 2014, Muela sought out a way to get the larger Bay Area community involved. From there, 49ers PREP adopted a model that enabled high school coaches to send their captains to the Mentorship Academy.
From there, the initiative breaks down into a three-step program designed to help captains learn from the 49ers so they can teach these lessons to their teammates. San Francisco’s rookie class leads an hour-long mentorship talk with the high schoolers, who leave with more knowledge on what it takes to inspire others.
“Part of the program is [for the captains] to bring this back to their team,” said Muela. “As a captain, their responsibility is to go back and bring the messaging and lessons learned back to their teams. We’re feeling like in this dynamic, we’re able to impact more student-athletes this way.”
Outside of high schools’ increased involvement with 49ers PREP, the organization has looked to other companies to help propel its mission. While renewing its deal to remain the 49ers’ official consumer bank partner, US Bank Head of Sponsorships Chris Lee says that there was an opportunity to focus on community engagement.
At the time, the US Bank-49ers relationship was almost a decade old, Lee said, but there wasn’t much local involvement. With 49ers PREP’s established reputation, US Bank’s involvement would only add to it – while also developing relationships of its own.
“We believe in the notion of investing back in the communities that we serve,” said Lee. “It’s a great opportunity to do that with a great partner like the 49ers – to invest resources and dollars behind it because we believe that the various components of the Mentorship Academy aligned closely to our initiatives from a [corporate social responsibility] standpoint.”
Just days removed from the 2019 mentorship academy, Lee and Muela want future editions to grow – both locally and nationally. For Lee, US Bank’s partnership with 49ers PREP in 2018 was the first step in reaching out to people all around the Bay Area. Over the next decade, he hopes that more schools will partake in the mentorship academy, enabling future generations of football players to become better people.
As for Muela, he’s grateful that the 49ers are developing the youth who live around them. There’s still more work to be done – many NFL teams have youth-driven initiatives, but as far as he knows, no one has something quite like the mentorship academy. What 49ers PREP has been able to accomplish isn’t arduous; any team can do it – and the effect it has on the community is invaluable.
“We hope that over the next five to 10 years of this relationship, we continue to impact more youth,” said Lee. “But also get to see some success stories of young individuals who came through a variety of these opportunities and are seeing success, whether it’s on the football field or in the classroom or the business world or the community.”
“I’d like to see it grow and have it as an NFL-wide program that all teams can activate,” said Muela. “It’s a great experience and it’s not overly complicated – but the depth of impact is really good.”