People are like spiders. Let Tyrone Poole — the first defensive draft pick in Carolina Panthers history, a two-time Super Bowl champion and a motivational speaker — tell you why.
“When you look at a spider and its existence, everything that it does comes from the inside,” Poole explains. “It catches its prey, it builds its house, it nurtures its young from the inside. As human beings, everything we do starts with an internal decision. It all comes from the inside.”
Poole is in town for one of his Level 38 Defensive Back camps, which will be held on June 3 at Olympic High School. As a 14-year NFL veteran at cornerback and nickel, Poole uses the camp to pass down his tips and tricks on playing the position.
But he also uses the camp in another way. Through presentations, guest speakers and simulations, Poole teaches life skills to middle school and high school participants. Most of it is situational: how to react when your coach is angry with you; how to push your teammates without being too harsh. Once again, the focus is on internal decision-making. Now, back to the spider.
“The spider can exist in any climate because it has everything from the inside,” Poole continues. “If we can come to that understanding, then when someone, or life, tears us down — just like a spider web — because everything comes from the inside, it’s back up again.
“And you’re like, ‘I thought I knocked that spider web down!’ But because the spider web was inside, you did it again … no matter what life throws our way, our happiness, our joy comes from the inside.”
Charlotte was a natural spot for Poole to bring his camp — after all, it was his first NFL home. In the 1995 NFL Draft, the Panthers traded up 10 spots to select Poole, a 5-foot-8 defensive back from Fort Valley State University, with the 22nd overall pick.
He was the first defensive back taken in that year’s draft, and the first player from Fort Valley State, a Division II school about an hour and half from Atlanta, to ever go in the first round.
Poole’s college stats were eye-popping: 17 interceptions, four pick-sixes, two punt-return touchdowns, 10 blocked field goals and extra points. He was an All-American in football and track, and once ran a 4.29 40-yard dash, he says.
He made an impact immediately. The 1995 Hall of Fame Game pitted two expansion teams, the Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, for their first-ever preseason game. Poole scored the longest touchdown of the day on an 85-yard pick six in the second quarter.
“It seemed like yesterday,” Poole said. “Against Jacksonville, Hall of Fame game. I intercepted it and went towards our bench. Those are some great memories.
As a rookie, Poole came in on third downs as a nickel for the first four games. Ahead of the Panthers’ fifth game, then-defensive backs coach George Catavolos told Poole he was starting on the outside. The next week, Poole recorded the first interception of his career against the New York Jets in the first win in Panthers history. He was a starter from then on.
During his time with the Panthers, from 1995-97, Poole drove a Jeep with gold rims, a Fort Valley State license plate on the front and his nickname, Total Package, on the back. He was a part of the Panthers’ first playoff win and their first NFC Championship appearance.
“A lot of rich history,” Poole said, “and a lot of memories I’ve always kept from my days here in Carolina.”
From there, he spent three years with the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, along with brief stops on three other teams. His three years with the Patriots netted him two Super Bowl rings, one at the expense of the Panthers in Super Bowl 38. Panthers receiver Steve Smith accused Poole of spitting in his face during the third quarter; Poole said after the game that it was simply a shouting match.
Poole retired in 2009, and started the Tyrone Poole 38 Foundation in 2011. He chose 38 to go in the name, simply because it was his old number. But now, after a revelation, he says the number has “a life of its own.” The 3 represents beginning, middle and end; mind, body and soul. The 8 represents balance, and infinity — just flip the number on its side to see why.
“The vision that I got for the Tyrone Poole 38 Foundation, based off that,” he said, “is that it’s here to help people mentally, spiritually and physically; here to bring balance; and is here to be forever."
The three also corresponds with Poole’s three pillars, or goals, of his foundation: education, fitness and humanitarianism. Camps are one part of the nonprofit foundation; others include seminars and a father-daughter dance.
Poole himself is a speaker, the author of Ultimate Success in the Game of Life and the inventor of a multi-training fitness sled. Up until May 5 of this year, however, there was one thing Poole didn’t have.
“No matter where I went, or what I tried to look up, the one thing that kept anyone from bringing me on board was you had to have a four-year degree,” he said. “If you know someone, maybe they can get you through the backdoor. But I didn’t want anyone to say they helped me — I wanted to do it myself.”
Poole spent the last year and half finishing up his remaining credit hours at Fort Valley State (around 30). He earned a degree in media sciences, and gave the commencement speech at his graduation. The school gave him extended tickets, so most of his friends and family could watch as he addressed his graduating class, which included a 73-year-old woman. She helped Poole realize it’s never too late to go back to college.
“It’s just like running the mile,” he said. “You see the first guy go across, but then you see that guy bringing up the rear. Everybody sees him coming to that home stretch, and everybody starts clapping. Because they know the race is about to be over, he’s the last one and he’s finishing. I might have been that person … but I got across that finish line.”
At 46 years old, Poole is also a father of two children, 17-year-old Tyra and 12-year-old Tyson. He lives in Atlanta, near his hometown of LaGrange, Ga. And with a foundation behind him, as well as a brand new four-year degree, Poole doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
“Getting that degree allows the genie to come out of the bottle,” he says with a smile. “Now, I’m just making wishes.”