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  • Writer's pictureCory Kundert

Finding Your Identity After Sports - Jonathan Orr - Episode 14

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

Jonathan Orr seemingly had it all. He was an accomplished student-athlete, but struggled with transitioning to life after sports. The Detroit, Michigan native was a star athlete and Class President at Henry Ford High School. He was a first team all state receiver in Michigan and chose to attend Wisconsin after high school. The connection he had with his position coach, Henry Mason, was a big reason why Jonathan ended up in Madison. Coach Mason had a tremendous impact on Jonathan's football career and life. Jonathan had a great career as a Badger, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, and is now the Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Transition Services, a non-profit that specializes in athletes transitioning to life after sports. That can be a tough transition for athletes who don't know what to do once their competitive careers are over. This is something that Jonathan knows all too well. Throughout his time as a Badger and through his transition out of sports, Jonathan had hard times. He talks about his time as a Badger, his transition to the NFL, his transition out of sports, and his current work at Athlete Transition Services on Episode 14 of Wisco Legacy, launching Tuesday, January 4th.

Jonathan had an incredible freshman year filling in for Badger football legend, Lee Evans. He played in all 14 games, ended the year with 47 receptions, 842 years, and 8 touchdowns. His breakout game was against UNLV in the second game of the year. He ended the game with seven receptions, 150 yards, and one touchdown. This was a Badger freshman record! Jonathan continued that success throughout the rest of his freshman year, until the bowl game.

December 28, 2002, the Badgers played Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. Jonathan led the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns during the season, but did not make a catch in the Alamo Bowl. He had a few dropped passes and ran the wrong route on another play, which caused an interception. That game stuck with him for a long time. His sophomore year, he lacked confidence. He was playing with a fear of messing up instead of playing loose and with confidence. This stuck with him all through his sophomore year and part of his junior year. Half way through his junior year, he recognized his lack of confidence and spoke to Coach Mason. At that point, he started to turn it around. Jonathan had a great senior year. He ended the year with 40 receptions 688 yards, and 8 touchdowns. His confidence was back! He was flying around the field, making great catches, and winning football games in his last year as a Badger.

Jonathan had always dreamed of playing in the NFL. Heading into the draft, he had no idea where he would end up. He had heard anywhere from second round to undrafted. He ultimately was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round. The transition to the NFL was interesting for him. To go from a college student-athlete to getting a six-figure signing bonus and multiple endorsements and solely focusing on football was challenging. Jonathan spend two years in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders. His promising NFL career was cut short due to injuries. Walking away from the sport he put his heart and soul into was the hardest and most challenging period of his life. He was at a crossroads. He had to figure out his identify beyond football.

Jonathan had to get rooted into his core identity after sports. After some searching, he found that the foundation to his identity was his faith in Jesus Christ. Once he figured that out, his mindset changed. Everything else (business, husband, father, etc.) could be built on top of that strong foundation in faith. Eventually, Jonathan came to discover this was a common thing that happened to former athletes. Once they stopped competing in sports, they were lost. Often times, former athletes struggle to figure out the next step in their journey. I know I certainly did. I was a three sport athlete (wrestling, football, and baseball) growing up. I spent most weekends at wrestling tournaments, on a baseball diamond, or on a football field. I was infatuated with competing and watching sports. That was instilled in me at a young age. From the time I was six years old until I graduated high school, I identified myself as an athlete. It was all I knew growing up. I knew I had to workout, strive to get better every day, and compete as hard as I could. Once my athletic career was over, I struggled. I had nothing to work for and nothing to work towards. I was lost. As a result, I piled on the weight. I gained nearly 200 pounds within a ten year span. Fortunately, I was able to finally find my core identity and turned my life around. My core identity is tied into being a dad. It's who I am and who I want to be. I want to be the best father my kids can have. When I finally figured that out, I put a plan together and lost over 100 pounds in one year. It was incredibly gratifying for me to lose the weight and finally transform into the person I was destined to be. I chronicle my weight loss journey in episode one of Wisco Legacy, linked below:

Jonathan founded Athlete Transition Services (ATS) in 2014 to help athletes transitioning to life after sports. That transition for Jonathan was one of the hardest things he went through in his life. He spoke to other athletes who transitioned out of sports and they felt similar. He knew there was a need, he had first hand experience, and a deep passion for this work, so he started his non-profit. Athlete Transition Services works with universities, professional sports teams, and more and has clients throughout the United States. To view all of the services ATS offers, click the link below:

Jonathan has accomplished a lot in his life. He was a highly successful student-athlete at Henry Ford High School in Detroit, Michigan, an outstanding football player for the University of Wisconsin, and had a short career in the NFL. Through all of his success, he still had struggles. After a record setting freshman year as a Badger, his opportunities and accomplishments were lessened his sophomore and junior year. He battled injuries throughout his time in the NFL, which ultimately led him to leave the game he loved. That transition was the hardest of his life, but it provided some clarity. After going through that, he realized the need for education around athlete transitions. He worked hard to start a non-profit that focused on that and met great connections along the way. Jonathan and the team at Athlete Transition Services are doing exceptional work and paving the way for athletes to successfully transition to life after sports.

Check out episode 14 of Wisco Legacy on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. The episode will drop at 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 4th on all of those platforms. Hit that subscribe button on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts and follow Wisco Legacy on social media. Below are the links to YouTube, Spotiy, Apple Podcast, etc. for Wisco Legacy.

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