Spotlight

Stephen Cheek

Trust Spotlights

Stephen Cheek

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Born and raised in a small town in New Jersey, Stephen Cheek always dreamed of playing football professionally. He went on to play collegiately at Humboldt State University as a quarterback and worked hard as an undrafted free agent to make it to the NFL as a punter.

Years of overcoming obstacles and doubt finally paid off in 2001 when he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent. To this day, Cheek still recalls the signing of his first contract as one of the highlights of his entire career; “For me, it was a grind,” he said, “getting that first contract, and seeing my name under it, was very cool.” He went on to play over a span of five seasons for the Eagles, Giants, Texans, Chiefs, and Panthers. Additionally, he had the opportunity to play abroad through NFL Europe, playing in Cologne and Berlin, Germany.

Cheek’s NFL career came to an end after suffering a major injury, a challenging situation that many Former Players can relate to. “It was difficult because I didn’t make the decision, the decision was made for me.” Cheek said the most astounding part of transitioning out of the League was how many years of blood, sweat, and tears went into playing professionally versus how quickly it all came to an end.

In the first few years following his retirement from the League, Cheek decided to “bounce around” to different locations and careers in an effort to find his next passion. He spent time volunteering at local high schools as a football coach before moving to the South of France to continue his coaching career, eventually becoming the head coach of the Argonautes of Aix-en-Provence. On his return to the U.S., he ventured into careers in the corporate world and even ended up attending culinary school.

While Cheek continued to try out different careers, he felt that going back to school was something that would really serve his future endeavors. Through The Trust Scholarship, he was able to earn two master’s degrees, one in Coaching and Athletic Administration and another in Coaching and Exercise Sciences. “I certainly wanted to study more about sports, athletics, and exercise science,” he said, “so the fact that there was a resource for me to utilize and be able to pay for it was wonderful — I'm very grateful for that.” Cheek said he likely wouldn’t have taken the next steps to go back to school if it weren’t for The Trust’s support.

Then, in 2019, Cheek was offered another opportunity through The Trust that he couldn’t refuse: The Trust Fellowship. Being in the inaugural Fellowship class and completing the experience during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheek recalls that his year was unique but one he wouldn’t give up for the world.

Following his time as a fellow, Cheek was hired full-time as Member Services Assistant, which is the role he continues to hold today. “It was all exciting and rewarding,” he said. In his role, Cheek spreads awareness about The Trust, connects Former Players to their benefits, and helps others in their transition out of the League. His own experience heavily influences how he approaches each call with a Trust Member.

If The Trust had been around when I transitioned out of the NFL, things would have been a lot smoother for me.

“For me, it's very rewarding,” Cheek said. “I appreciate the opportunity to be able to share my story.” Reflecting on his unique perspective as a Former Player, he said, “I think that, in many instances, guys have appreciated my knowledge based on my experience because I'm able to speak the language.” He values the “fast friends” he can make on the phone and his ability to speak to shared experiences as other Former Players. “But honestly, I feel like I get a lot more from them on a daily basis than I could probably be giving them,” he said.

I would say my biggest piece of advice would be to get yourself out there. The best way I learned was through trial and error.

His advice to Former Players is what he learned from his own experience: “Stay busy, stay interactive, and try stuff.” Cheek credits trying multiple different career paths and pursuing new opportunities with getting him to where he is today. From the corporate world to the bakery, Cheek has done it all firsthand. “Keep your mind and body moving — you don't really know what's around the next turn, so you just have to keep on going forward,” he said.

Being able to stay connected to his former NFL career and help others has made his time with The Trust an incredibly impactful one. “I think the most rewarding thing for me throughout this whole entire journey was getting back in touch with a little bit of my childhood dream, while at the same time learning and helping others.”

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