Class Notes Profile: Gridiron Writer
He hasn’t played football since 2013, but Rashard Mendenhall is still pushing himself. After a glittering college career for the Illini—27 touchdowns, 3,103 yards, 2007 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and All-America laurels—and half a dozen seasons in the NFL, he retired at age 26. “Football was cool,” he says, “but I wanted to travel the world and write!”
Six years later, he’s a writer and executive story editor for Ballers, the HBO series starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a retired NFL star coping with life after football. For Mendenhall, “capturing a vision—a line or a scene” in the show, “pulling inspiration out of the air and putting it on the TV screen, that’s as good as any touchdown.”
Some scenes he has pulled from his own career. “My rookie year with the Steelers, I had to bring Krispy Kremes to the veterans. One day I forgot, and they threw all my clothes in the cold tub in the locker room.” The same thing happens to Johnson in Ballers.
Mendenhall, 32, was always a writer. He kept a journal during his Illinois days and still jots down ideas that might make the transition from real life to premium cable. “The biggest transition,” he says, “has been learning a new identity—letting go of the warrior who lived for that physical battle every Saturday or Sunday.” To do that, Mendenhall turned to a discipline called “crescent moon.” “It has to do with meditation and energy control,” he says. He lost 30 pounds of football weight, gained physical and spiritual balance, and became one of the hotter young writers in Hollywood.
Looking back on his time on campus, he says, “I was blessed to learn so much on and off the field. I’ll always be part of the Illinois family, and those years are still part of me now that I’m walking around under the title of writer-producer.”