In this episode, Andrew East shares about his winding journey to professional football. Growing up in Indianapolis with several brothers, Andrew remembers attending football games as a kid and being wowed by the stadium, players, and abilities of the athletes. His older brothers, Guy and JD, were especially influential in turning his interest towards playing. He credits becoming a long snapper, however, to his father who played collegiate football at Purdue in the same position. Andrew recalls that, although he was successful in his position at a Division 1 high school, he wasn’t necessarily setting his sights on playing in college and definitely never dreamed of the NFL.
His goals changed, however, when he attended a summer football intensive at Vanderbilt University. Upon connecting with some of the coaches, Andrew began to entertain the idea of continuing his career. As the months of his senior year passed, though, and no calls came in with offers, he settled on playing Division 3 football on the same team as his older brother, JD.
All of these plans quickly shifted when Andrew got a phone call late in the spring offering him a scholarship spot at Vanderbilt. Aware that the roster had been filled, he learned that space had opened up on the team due to tragic circumstances. A fellow signee, Rajaan Bennett, had been tragically murdered by his mother’s ex-boyfriend as he attempted to protect his younger brother with special needs. Andrew shares that as he took the position on the team, it was never lost on him that his opportunity to play came at the price of another young man’s life. Even when practices were brutal and the balance with school seemed impossible, he always played in honor of Rajaan. Andrew finished at Vanderbilt with a Bachelors in Engineering and also completed his MBA — all while serving as two time captain of the team.
After graduation he joined the Kansas City Chiefs and expresses how unprepared he was for the transition to professional football. Unlike college football, there is nothing else to focus other than practice, games, and performance. Andrew shares that he began hyper-analyzing every play both on and off the field. He only ever thought about football — reliving mistakes and obsessing over form. This tunnel vision, compounded with the pressure of playing at the professional level, led to struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. The attacks became more and more frequent until he was eventually let go from the Chiefs. He was shocked, devastated, and disappointed. Sure that this was the end of his NFL career, he wallowed for several months not knowing what he would do next.
He credits his girlfriend at the time, Olympic gold medalist gymnast Shawn Johnson-East, for helping to pull him out of his stupor. Her encouragement plus support from his family led him on a journey of discovering emotional health and balance. He began focusing on other hobbies like film making, entrepreneurial endeavors, and supporting her budding YouTube channel. As he regained his footing and became more well rounded, the NFL offers came rolling back in. Over the past four years Andrew has played on seven different NFL teams. And although hopping around is not necessarily ideal, having other areas of interest and success has made each one of those transitions easier.
Outside of football he consults in social media development and small film editing — something you wouldn’t expect from a guy who couldn’t be found online just a few years ago. Never really interested in being in the spotlight, East has followed the lead of his wife, Shawn, who has dealt with athletic fame since she was just 14 years old. They were introduced to one another by his brother, former professional cyclist Guy East, who met Shawn at the Olympics. Andrew shares about his spontaneous engagement at a Chicago Cubs game because, “once I had the ring, I just couldn’t wait.” Now married, they approach their social media presence as an opportunity to help others, build community, and connect with people they might not otherwise. This was evident as they publicly shared about their miscarriage in 2017. Thousands of messages poured in from followers who appreciated their vulnerability and honesty about a painful subject that often leaves couples feeling isolated.
Having never fathomed playing in the NFL or running a social media business, Andrew has learned to simply be grateful. His unique journey has even led him to start his own podcast entitled ReDirected, which highlights individuals who have experienced unexpected career shifts that have been surprisingly life giving. He may not know what is next for him, but acknowledges that an openness to new opportunities and balance through all areas of his life are essential to his success both on and off the field.