Doing Work with DJonkins

The Woodlands Piper is soccer elite

Piper will be on her way to Duke in 2019 Vype

The Woodlands High School soccer program has one of the most over-qualified team managers in the country.

Sarah Piper is a national recruit headed to Duke in 2019, but was relegated to carrying bags and balls for the Highlanders.

As a member of the Dynamo-Dash Youth Development Academy, she has agreed to not play at the high school level.

“I had a great experience playing for The Woodlands my sophomore year and we had a great season,” Piper said. “Coach (Dina) Graves allowed me to be the manager this year just so I could be around the program. These are my best friends and are fun to be around. I loved it from the social aspect.”

Piper is an elite athlete and is training for the next stage of her career.

“I love the club training experience,” she said. “I’m pretty serious and focused. That’s how club soccer is. It’s also the entire year, instead of half of it.”

She also played on the national teams, which have traveled to the likes of Italy, England and Australia. This isn’t new to Piper, having a brother who played at Yale and a sister currently playing at Texas A&M.

“My parents never played soccer, but got my older siblings into it when they were young,” she said. “I just fell in love with the sport going to their games, which led to me playing.”

Her hard work and skill made her one of the most coveted 2019 recruits in the country. So why Duke?

“My parents told me to make a list of the Top 25 academic schools and the Top 25 soccer schools in the country, and pick from there,” she said. “Honestly, Duke wasn’t in the Top 25 teams when I committed, but they are making a comeback. Then I went on a visit and fell in love with the campus. It’s just the right fit for me.”

Not to put the cart before the horse, but we had to ask where she sees herself in five to 10 years?

“I want to be the best I can be at Duke,” she said. “If the opportunity to play professionally after my time there, sure I would love to. I think I would like to play in a foreign country to learn a different culture. If not, I think I will go into medicine.”

“Sarah is very similar to her sister, Texas A&M soccer star, Grace Piper, who I also train,” Derrick Jonkins said. “She has a relentless work ethic and is a very smart young lady who knows exactly what she wants. One thing I tell people is that you can’t teach work ethic. It’s something that is instilled in you and it starts at home.

“As long as she keeps working and stays focused, she should easily play professionally some day. I’m just blessed to be able to work with an athlete of her caliber. We discuss almost every week what she wants to focus on. Lately, it’s been getting stronger in the weight room. She can already run like a deer, but now as she adds the power and the strength, she will be unstoppable.”

For more information about Derrick Jonkins and his new facility, go to http://djonkinssports.com/

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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