HACKENSACK, NJ – Former New York Giants defensive lineman Leonard Marshall visited students Tuesday at Hackensack Middle School, where he urged them to study hard and dream big.

During a special assembly for the 8thgrade class, Marshall, 57, spoke about his childhood in Louisiana, decision to start playing football in high school, career with the NFL and post retirement advocacy work.

While he said he feels “extremely blessed” for the life he’s led, the Louisiana native believes it wouldn’t have been possible without a solid education.

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“It is a privilege and will lead you to what you want to accomplish,” he told the kids. “I paid attention to my teachers. I took their guidance. I didn’t want to be the kid that looked back and wondered what happened to my life. I always wanted to keep moving forward.”

During high school, Marshall said football was as much of a priority for him as hitting the books. After graduation, he earned a scholarship to play college football at Louisiana State University, where he earned a degree in Business Administration. 

He went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL as a defensive lineman. The first ten seasons of his career was with the New York Giants, a period that included two Super Bowl championships. 

After his time with the Giants, Marshall went on to play a season each for the New York Jets and Washington Redskins before retiring at age 33. 

Now, Marshall’s focus is on contributing positively to the lives of others, especially children and other football players. 

Being a professional athlete “was great,” he said. “It has also given me a platform – to empower others and to set an example for others.”

“We live in a divisive climate right now. I think it’s important to pay attention to the social and physical needs of others,” he said.

In addition to serving as founder of multiple nonprofits, Marshall volunteers his time for several dozen organizations. He’s also spent time as a football camp instructor, football head coach, a student, a professor and a radio broadcaster.

In 2013, Marshall was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease detected in a growing number of retired NFL players. Since then, he’s been involved with efforts to spread awareness about the issue.