- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2013

Three pairs of blue-and-white balloons fluttered outside Suite 115 in Ashburn’s Goose Creek Village retail plaza on Saturday morning, Nov. 19, 2011. If it’s possible to pump helium into someone’s pride, commitment and hope, there it was, a charming welcome to the celebration inside.

Kedric Golston and Lorenzo Alexander greeted their patrons in the lobby. The Black Eyed Peas’ pop hit “Just Can’t Get Enough” bumped from stereo speakers. Women, children and a few men wandered through a series of rooms. They explored six exercise machines and a set of strength bands suspended from the ceiling. Three women and a girl practiced an eight-step dance in the large studio in back.

“It looks nice,” Golston said. “What do you think?”

It truly did. Black-and-white signs on the walls of the narrow hallway made the space look sleek. “THIS IS YOUR LIFE. FIND A PASSION AND PURSUE IT,” read one. “LIFE IS EITHER A DARING ADVENTURE OR NOTHING,” read another.

Golston, a defensive lineman for the Washington Redskins since 2006, took up Pilates five years ago in order to strengthen his hip flexors. He developed an affinity so deep that it led him and Alexander, his Redskins teammate, to the front of Suite 115 that morning. Their adventure had begun.

A day before the Redskins hosted the rival Dallas Cowboys, the two owners donned matching black golf shirts and hosted the grand opening of The Studio MBS.

They are one of several pairs of NFL teammates or former teammates who have ventured together into the business world. Some players pursue it as a hobby. Others hope to maximize their celebrity and disposable income to start building for their lives after football.

They’re ambitious, with diverse interests, eager to prove there is substance underneath the helmet. Elements of football success — trust, teamwork, patience and dedication — guide their efforts.

“Playing in the NFL,” Alexander said, “helps you get a head start on the rest of your life.”

The Studio MBS (mind.body.soul) in its nearly 16 months has evolved beyond an initial vision for a Pilates and dance studio, as Golston’s and Alexander’s families have met the challenges typical of a small business startup. On the plodding journey toward their business goals, learning experiences have enriched their lives and their families’ friendship.

“Without the relationships, we have nothing,” Golston said. “Money will come and go, but the relationship is the most important thing. There’s so much value in that over anything else.”

‘A fuller life’

It was a scorching 57 degrees in Ashwaubenon, Wis., this past November when Packers kicker Mason Crosby and receiver Jordy Nelson launched their new business in the Green Bay suburb.

Crosby was confident that even after the tundra froze, there would be demand for frozen yogurt.

“We’re hard core up here,” he said later.

After five seasons in pro football, Crosby last year decided to invest in his future. And like many active players who own a business, a passion outside the sport compelled him.

Crosby’s interest in marketing was piqued during psychology and sociology classes as part of his communications major at the University of Colorado. Investing in the Orange Leaf frozen yogurt chain seemed a low-risk introduction to business.

As a franchisee, more experienced managers run the store while he still is able to push for answers to questions that intrigue him.

“How do we get people to come to the shop?” he recently wondered aloud. “How do we get people to think it’s great?”

Other players’ businesses require deeper involvement.

Defensive lineman Nate Collins and receiver Victor Cruz started the Young Whales clothing line as a hobby during the 2011 lockout. The idea hatched while the two New York Giants undrafted free agents were rookie roommates the previous year. Collins is enamored of casinos, so the term “whale,” describing a high roller, seemed perfect.

Collins and Cruz must be involved because they started the business from scratch. They also want to be active — football permitting. Now that Collins, a University of Virginia product, plays for the Chicago Bears, they make an extra effort to communicate.

They have Skype video meetings at least once a week with their designer, warehouse manager and marketing agent to ensure the business is on course. That also helps them solve problems, like the time manufacturing abruptly halted because of an extended Chinese holiday.

Young Whales sold autographed T-shirts for Superstorm Sandy relief at $50 and $100 apiece. After Cruz signed them in New York, he shipped them to Chicago for Collins to autograph. Collins had to sign them promptly to fill the orders and keep customers happy.

“If you’re a quarterback, you’ve got to know that your left tackle is going to protect your blind side,” Collins said. “It’s one of those things where you all have to work together, and we all have to trust each other.”

Collins sounded like a proud parent. These players want to show they’re multidimensional. Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard had that opportunistic mindset in 2011.

After entering the NFL in 2006, he occasionally witnessed players exchanging thousands of dollars in bets on a card game called Bourre. The game, which is similar to Spades, gained local notoriety in 2010 when Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton brought guns into the NBA team’s locker room following a dispute about it.

When Pollard learned there was no smartphone application for the game, he sought out Ryan Moats, his teammate with the Houston Texans in 2009. Moats has moved on from football and now owns Moatsworks Studios, a graphic design company.

“We’re business-minded, just like other people are, and we care about life after football,” Pollard said. “For me, I always want to work. I don’t ever want to be sitting around not doing nothing. I don’t think my wife would let me, anyway.”

Pollard invested what he called “a good chunk of money” in Moats’ company to develop a Bourre app for Apple products. The game, in which players gamble fake money, launched in August and costs 99 cents to download.

“You’ve got to use some of the things that we have at our disposal … and make a fuller life,” Crosby said. “Not just be a kicker all the time. I love what I do, and I want to do it for a long time. But there’s going to be a life after this, and I’ve got to make sure that I educate and nourish that progression as it comes.”

‘So many details’

Alexander reported to work early one weekday morning last winter because it was his turn in the rotation.

The Redskins were less than a month into their offseason, but already Alexander’s second job demanded his attention. In The Studio’s infancy, either he or Golston or their wives, Manjanique or Christal, respectively, was always on-site to deal with whatever twist that day presented.

Alexander sat at a desk in a windowless office across the hall from the main dance studio. It was strange to see him all corporate in a golf shirt and slacks. A supply list on the wall included tape, hanging file folders and tissues. He clicked away at a desktop computer

It was what Alexander wanted when the owner of Castlerock Pilates (pronounced pih-LAH-teez) moved and left the client base, including him, without its preferred workout facility.

Alexander and Golston by then considered Pilates an optimum training method. They also had resources to seize what they considered an opportunity to diversify their lives, establish roots in the community and, hopefully, run a profitable company.

Considering the financial flexibility they earned playing football — and the potential tax write-offs — their families decided to take over the business.

“It’s a safety net, versus where if The Studio was all I had, I don’t know if I could just throw $150,000 into it,” Alexander said.

That decision was easier than the work required to realize their vision. Alexander and Golston were equipped with knowledge from the NFL Business Management & Entrepreneurial Program they attended at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 2010, but this was real.

“I kept telling them: ‘You guys, when you open your own business, it’s so hard. It’s so much work and there are so many details,’” Christal Golston said, sharing her decade of experience owning her real estate company.

The husbands learned quickly; not that they shied from hard work. Golston, 29, was a sixth-round draft pick out of Georgia in 2006. Alexander, a 29-year-old Cal product, joined the Redskins that year as a member of the practice squad. Players with that pedigree don’t survive two head coaching changes over seven seasons without strong work ethics.

“When you own a business, you don’t have a day off,” Golston said. “You’re the janitor. You’re the accountant. You’re the receptionist, the mechanic. So just the approach if something has to get done, you have to do it. Just like in football. They don’t see you waking up at 5 a.m., going and running, the discipline it takes day in and day out.”

That commitment strengthens interpersonal bonds. It’s how Alexander and Golston became friends in the first place. Sessions on the field practicing defense or special teams nurtured that one afternoon at a time.

The dynamic was similar during nights last winter after The Studio closed. Golston and Alexander stayed late to service their Pilates machines — because who else would?

“I see this throughout both of their lives every day and in every aspect,” Christal Golston said. “They’re literally loyal to a fault to each other, to where they would die for one another in a second.”

‘Not just a product’

The Studio MBS is more than the Pilates and dance studio it was 16 months ago. Studio 2, where TRX suspension training bands hung during the grand opening, now looks more like a kindergarten classroom.

A rainbow explosion of letters, numbers and shapes brightens the rug that covers the black rubbery floor. A wooden toy train track winds over a table near the wall. Tables and chairs are in place for children to do schoolwork as part of The Studio’s kids programs.

The almighty quest for profits fueled the evolution. How could the Alexanders and Golstons maximize the revenue their space could generate? By providing child care to mothers who work, exercise or run errands during the day. The Studio goes so far as to pick up children from school.

Alexander has mixed feelings. He often defers decisions to Manjanique because she is present more often at The Studio, especially during the season, when he and Golston stay away to focus on football. But when the families’ hard work and money go to a final product different from the original vision, acceptance isn’t necessarily easy.

“My initial idea was just a Pilates studio, but then it turned into: Let’s have dance, let’s have a day care school part all in one,” he said. “When you start doing all that, obviously you’ve got to pay people to run those different divisions, and that’s more that you have to coordinate around, so that’s a little bit more stress.

“I don’t know if I would have agreed to doing all that. I understand why we did it, but I don’t know if that’s what I got into it in the first place for.”

Next time, Alexander would attempt more market research to gauge demand for services. He considers it a learning experience, which, at this stage of his life, can be as valuable as profit.

Alexander also has realized business ownership might not be for him. He dislikes the stress and how the accountability to each detail requires time he could be spending with his three kids. Something attracts him to the clock-in, clock-out workday.

“I don’t really need control,” he said. “Some people don’t like working for other people. I’m used to working in a team environment, anyway, so I think that better suits me.”

Ultimately, though, Alexander supports the changes at The Studio.

“It’s not just a product,” he said. “Your bodies are better, healthier. And then it’s something for kids to do that’s constructive after school, helping them with their homework, but then they’re also dancing, exercising. It’s good because we’re helping people.”

There were no balloons or fanfare at The Studio at noon on a Saturday last month. Two Pilates classes concluded, and all was quiet. Business as usual.

The participants departed, leaving only Golston and an employee at the front desk.

“With any business, the first year is always the hardest,” Golston said. “It’s right where we wanted it to be. It’s successful right now. I think next year is going to be even better.”

There’s significant uncertainty, though, involving Alexander and Golston’s primary job. They’re both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents March 12. Their run as teammates might be over, and one or both of them might play elsewhere next season.

Those concerns, however, were best left for another time. Such a tranquil moment at The Studio was worth preserving.