Tennessee Titan stars Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown say their parents have been the backbone of their success.
The duo teamed up to be part of the 16th annual First Shot Sneaker Ball event Thursday night at the TDK Hangar at the Murfreesboro Airport as keynote celebrity/speakers interviewed by World Outreach Pastor Alan Jackson.
Brown burst upon the scene as a rookie in 2019 when he caught 52 passes for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns, while averaging more than 20 yards per reception. He had 70 catches for 1,075 yards and 11 TDs last season.
"For me, it would definitely be my father," said Brown when asked who has had the biggest influence on him. "He instilled hard work it me. He motivated me each and every day by watching how hard he worked. He taught me to believe in myself. I still remember the conversations we had in the yard. I still remember him telling me, 'if you want something, you've got to go work with it.’
"I remember a conversation with my mother when I was younger, too. She said, 'you must do the things you have to do before you can do the things you want to do.' I'm 23 now, but I still remember that. The stuff that I don't want to do, I still do it. Training is not always fun, but I do it because it’s going to prepare me for any situation that comes up."
Tannehill, who arrived in Nashville via Miami in 2019, threw for 3,819 yards, 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions last season. Upon being inserted into the starting lineup in 2019, he threw for 2,742 yards, 22 touchdowns and just six picks.
"My parents were my biggest influences; they were both teachers and coaches," Tannehill said. "When I was younger I was always around different sports. To have them in my life helping me learn about the benefits of playing the games was great.
"It's not all about the sport itself. It's about life’s lessons, and now I'm still able to play the sport I love as a profession, but I learned so many life skills through my parents.”
Tannehill and Brown both said it's important for them to be visible in the midstate, whether it's taking part in a kids camp or speaking at events like Sneaker Ball, which raises money for the First Shot Foundation.
"It's really important because I think I've been very blessed to be put in this position and do something I love and being looked up to by a lot of kids," Tannehill said. "To be able speak and interact with kids or be at an event like this, I will always cherish those moments and be thankful for the opportunities because I've been a kid at a camp before who looked up to those athletes."
Added Brown: "I think it's very important because I was once one of those little kids. It humbles me that I can put a smile on someone's face. You never know what a kid is going through or their story, so being out in the community can go a long way because kids remember it."
Brown and Tannehill say their message to kids is always the same.
"I tell them to enjoy the game or whatever you're doing," Brown said. "Do it for the right reason. There are people that I know that don't do it for the right reason."
"Have fun and enjoy the ride," Tannehill said. "If you're involved in sports, you learn so many life skills, so have fun going through it. I know being the old man on the team at 32 years old, I still love what I do. I love entertaining people, which is kind of mind-blowing. Not a lot of people make it to our level. Keep your education first. At the end of the day be ready to fall back on what you put into your education and life skills through sports."
First Shot President Andy Herzer was a talented young athlete growing up in Garrett, Indiana, where he got his "first shot."
His first shot was an opportunity to go to a basketball camp thanks to local sports writer Roger Gordon and his wife Betty, who afforded him an opportunity to attend the highly touted Carolina Basketball School.
Herzer went on to play college basketball at North Carolina-Asheville where he also coached before being an assistant at MTSU.
When Herzer got out of coaching after 18 years, he founded First Shot, a non-profit organization based on his Christian faith and passion for basketball.
It has since grown to one of the most giving organizations in the community thanks to Herzer and the many volunteers who made events such as Thursday's possible.
First Shot holds numerous free camps and clinics for kids throughout the year where kids learn life and classroom skills, as well as basketball. First Shot has provided tutoring, ACT preparation and he's taken groups to different universities and trade schools to show them what's out there after high school graduation.
His passion has never waned in giving kids their "first shot."
Herzer is best known for saying, "if I help or save one kid, it's all been worth it."
With that in mind, it has definitely been worth it.