Gridiron Leaders Foundation Welcomes Their First Student Athletes to China

As we reported earlier this past spring, the Gridiron Leaders Foundation had launched a program to find candidates for a US/China initiative using American football to help develop student athletes into leaders on a global scale.

Since then, the Foundation has been working with a number of institutes, finding candidates who meet the requirements and who will fit into the environment.

The Gridiron Leaders Foundation has selected to its 2015/16 Fellowship Class the University of Toledo’s Vladimir Emilien, University of Michigan’s Floyd Simmons and Vanderbilt University’s Darien Bryant. These young men will have the privilege of working for nine months in China. During their fellowship, they will be given a professional job placement, learning the Chinese culture, as well as mentoring and coaching a Chinese American football team.

2015-2016 China Gridiron Fellows

Darien Bryant

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 30: Darien Bryant #56 of the Vanderbilt Commodores watches from the sideline during a game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Nominating Institution: Vanderbilt University Commodores
Position: Defensive End
Degree: B.A. – Business & Cultural Analysis in East Asia (2014 -VU)
M.S. – Integrated Marketing Communications (2015 – WVU)
Field of Professional Interest: Multicultural Marketing Strategy

Darien Bryant was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, but has spent most of his life in and around Columbus, OH. After taking a trip to Hawaii in high school and seeing Asian cultures up close, he discovered his interests in
business administration and East Asia studies, and decided to pursue a B.A. in Business & Cultural Analysis in East Asia.

The opportunity to study abroad in Beijing and Shanghai during undergrad only further fueled his ambition to travel and understand the peculiarities of doing business in China. Darien will soon complete his M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications with a focus in multicultural marketing and enters the job market with a keen ability to perform market analysis and research that will allow him to be a leader in communications and management.

He hopes to apply his unique education on issues of marketing, communications, research, economics, and multicultural studies to a consulting or global business strategy position. His interests are peaked by the opportunity to see up close the circumstances created by China’s rapid rise toward economic ascendancy. Partaking in this
unique opportunity will prepare him for his long-term career interests of being in an environment with
others who value travel and different cultures.

He is excited about taking a job in a Chinese company that allows him to measure the nuances of marketing in Asia and looks forward to enabling the people he works with to have a more well-rounded take on international business.

Vladimir Emilien

China - Vladimir Emilien2

Nominating Institution: University of Michigan Wolverines
Position: Safety
Degree: B.A. Entrepreneurship (2013 – Univ. of Toledo)
M.B.A. Marketing (2014 – Univ. of Toledo)
Field of Professional Interest: Entrepreneurship, Writing, Acting

Vladimir “Vlad” Emilien is a passionate author, actor and entrepreneur. Vlad learned of his passion for performing arts at a young age when he began writing poetry and performing spoken word and acting. He was able to blend his athletic and artistic interests as a student-athlete at the University of Michigan where his time off the football field involved taking part in plays and improv on campus.

Following his football career, Vlad earned a Masters of Business Administration at the University of Toledo. Inspired by his work at a consulting and marketing firm, SA2 Consulting in Miami, he founded the Not Just An Athlete Inc. company and sports brand.

Not Just An Athlete Inc. has created a platform for mentoring events and motivational speaking engagements that bring together athletes in America and display their talents and passions outside of athletics. The inspiration
for the brand stemmed from years of being identified as a stereotypical “jock” and watching too many
friends struggle with depression following their transition away from sports.

Vlad’s determination to further the contribution of athletes in society and inspire others to strive to achieve their life goals has led to him publishing Life as My Teacher, a book based on his experiences growing up in Miami and
lessons learned on the gridiron. Vlad’s journey throughout the books shows that there are no ceilings
to each individual’s capacity for change and renewal.

Vlad resides in Los Angeles where he is pursuing a career in acting and continuing to develop Not Just
An Athlete Inc. through products, public speaker engagements and mentoring services. And, whether
through writing poetry, performing spoken word or acting, he has continued to grow both his
appreciation and contribution to the arts.

Floyd Simmons

China - Floyd SimmonsNominating Institution: University of Michigan Wolverines
Position: Safety
Degree: B.A., Political Science/ African American and African Studies (2012)
M.S.W. Non-Profit Management (Dec 2014)
Field of Professional Interest: Social Policy, Law, and Non-Profit Sector

Floyd Simmons was born and raised on the East Side of Detroit, Michigan,the  epicenter of working- and middle-class African American life in the city. The neighborhoods he grew up in had come to represent the unraveling of
the American dream and the intersection of social, economic, racial and political problems that the nation encountered in the second half of the 20th century. At an early age, Floyd witnessed the incredible disparity in wealth and education that spawned after the decline of factory jobs and communities that relied on them, and it is with these experiences growing up that he now strives to address the issues of income inequality and community redevelopment in and around Detroit.

In 2008, he was accepted to the University of Michigan where he earned a place as a defensive back on the football team and pursued his B.A. in Political Science and African American and African Studies. Motivated by his interest in education and economic inequality, Floyd developed his understanding of multi-dimensional poverty and the role of social policy in meeting the needs of minorities and traditionally underserved communities. Utilizing statistical data that mirrored the neighborhood where he grew up, he researched populations living in low-performing education systems and discovered the ancillary effects of poorly implemented municipal policies on pupils. Through his research, he uncovered an inextricable link between policy and chronic

Floyd’s research compelled him to continue his education at U of M’s School of Social Work where he received his Masters with a concentration on non-profit management and human services. In the program, he gained insight on the root problems of America’s education crisis and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Outside of the classroom, Floyd took on positions at Washtenaw Area Council for Children, an agency dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect, as well as Hyman & Simmons Educational Services, a community organization working to improve educational outcomes in lower income Detroit.

Floyd managed thousands of dollars in grant money and supported manyorganizations and initiatives through fundraising, grant writing, and community organizing. In his sparetime, Floyd mentors athletes at U of M and works with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Information from Gridiron Leaders Foundation.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.