Middleton heads back to alma mater

Doug Middleton

Middleton heads back to alma mater
November 17
15:59 2022

Playing in the NFL is the dream of almost every young football player. Doug Middleton has been living that dream since 2016. Now he is going back to the place that allowed him to make his NFL dreams a reality.

Middleton was recently hired as the special assistant to the Athletics Department at Appalachian State University. In this role, Middleton will assist all athletic programs with mental health programming, NIL (Name, Image and Likeness), fundraising and recruiting.

Middleton is not retiring from the NFL, but rather looks at it as an opportunity to pour into the young athletes at App State. with the knowledge, experience and guidance he has obtained over the years since he left the program.

“I wouldn’t say necessarily that I am retiring because things can still change from here, but I am taking a little break,” Middleton said. “It’s not a full-time role because I still got a lot of stuff going on, not only with the foundation, but I am opening up a wellness center in south Charlotte.

“It’s more of a consulting role where I go up a couple days a week and really help out and be around the building and help out our student-athletes in all of those roles. I am not necessarily done, but I will say football is on the back burner.”

App State and Middleton have been in discussions for several years about finding a role for him in the athletics department. His aim has always been to have an administrative role in an athletic department.

“We have been talking about this for the last two years, to be honest,” he said. “My goal has always been athletic administration. I want to be an AD (athletics director) sometime down the road, and I did an internship with UVA in 2020.  

“I have always stayed closely connected with the AD. When we hired the last head coach, I sat in on that interview, so I have been very included in the process up to this point and I want to maintain that. I also want to get more involved in the program, so the feeling was mutual when football was not a priority anymore. This is the move I wanted to make.”

Mental health has been a top priority for Middleton since he lost his best friend to suicide in 2017. A few months later he started his foundation, Dream the Impossible, and immersed himself in the Winston-Salem community, especially concerning mental health in youth.

“Building off some of the things that I have done on the field and the philanthropic work we have done with Dream the Impossible, it definitely made sense for a partnership. I will speak to different teams about mental toughness, resilience and strength through adversity.

“We are also planning a lot of mental health programming throughout the season for our student-athletes. I do some sports performance coaching with our student athletes. The biggest thing I would say is being directly involved on a day-to-day basis with our student-athletes and being readily available to them.”

NIL is a big shift in college athletics. Now college players can earn money from their name, image and likeness, which opens up another can of worms for student-athletes to deal with. Having first hand experience of what it’s like to be a professional, Middleton can give these young men and women advice that only a professional can provide, which will be invaluable to them as they navigate the NIL landscape.

“The biggest thing is teaching them how to build a brand off the field and making sure they are able to show who they are beyond the sport that they play,” Middleton said about NIL. “I’ve helped them identify some of their favorite athletes and when they identify those athletes, most of the athletes they look up to have something going on outside of their sport.

“It’s about being able to tell your story, being able to figure out a way that people will have a relationship or a connection with you, whether you are playing or not. Your platform has to exist after your playing days are over and that’s one thing I have been trying to help our student-athletes do. Through making these relationships with these different brands in NIL, they are able to build long term relationships and not just transactional relationships.”

When it comes to fundraising, Middleton says his role will be to connect with the large donors on gameday for home games. He will also work with the AD to build momentum for the program.

Recruiting is really the backbone of college athletics. Being a professional athlete is what most, if not all, of the high school recruits are trying to strive toward. Middleton knows what it takes to make it on that level, so that will speak volumes when it comes to swaying recruits to come to Boone.

“That’s the biggest part for me coming back is the recruiting,” he said. “I sit with all the recruits and on official visits I sit with their parents and families. I talk to every recruit that comes on campus for a game for an official visit and that’s for all sports, not just football.

“I share with them what I was able to accomplish at Appalachian State and what that opportunity they gave me at App State has helped me do beyond App State. That is the thing they look at the most.”

When he looks back on his career, Middleton says he was more than pleased with how everything has turned out. He says he wasn’t on anyone’s radar but was just a guy that had a “goal and a dream and worked extremely hard.”

“When I look back on the things that I have accomplished with my football career, I am extremely pleased and happy because I tell people all the time that I envisioned it going this far, but I felt like there were always limits put on things I could accomplish and I definitely exceeded those,” he said about his career.

Having the opportunity to go back to the place that helped him reach the heights of the NFL and possibly help other athletes live their dreams is a blessing to Middleton, he said.  

“I think at the end of the day, we all want to be in a position to give back,” he said. “I think that’s what life is all about, being able to help people out and really help people that come behind you. When I came to App State, I just wanted to leave the place better than I found it and I think I did that.

“Now to come back on the other side of it with sports administration, to be able to put the school in an even better place, is my goal. It’s exciting and everything that I asked for and I just hope that I can continue to make it worthwhile.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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