Theirs were not stories of victory over drugs and alcohol - of having conquered debilitating addictions so they could go on to live productive lives.

No, Olympic gold medalist Bart Connor and Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Reggie Williams came to the Utah Federation for a Drug-Free Youth's conference Friday with a different message:It's cool to stay straight and clean.

Because of dedication to their sports (gymnastics and football, respectively), neither one was ever tempted by the prominence and availability of drugs and alcohol. And they want students to consider making the same choices today that they made many years ago.

Williams said that as a child he hated school. He had a hearing impairment, a speech impediment and was clumsy. Speech therapy helped, but his esteem was low and nothing was easy. Except reading. Reading didn't require hearing or speaking, he said, and he became a "real bookworm."

In 10th grade, he joined the school's football team so he'd "be able to get a date to the senior prom" two years later. And somewhere along the way he learned what was to become his motto:

"To be successful at something, you have to involve yourself in it."

Williams went on to Dartmouth, where he played football, and was a third-round draft pick for the Bengals 13 years ago. Next year, he said, he'll retire to spend more time with his wife and two young sons.

Connor was already a champion gymnast by the time he got to high school and had traveled all over the world. He grew up in the "poorer side" of Chicago, which he credited with some of his success.

"We couldn't afford drugs. That left them for the richer kids, who could afford to mess up their lives. At no phase was I ever tempted by drugs, because I was committed to sports and able to avoid it."

Connor's message to the young people was simply that "you don't have to learn to say `no' to drugs if you just don't put yourself in that situation in the first place. I really believe that the people you surround yourself with determine what kind of person you are and how others see you.

"I always have been attracted to achievers, people who have goals. Everyone needs to have a center of some kind in their lives, whether it's religion or athletics, or school or music. Just pick something and get involved."

Williams said that drugs have become a pervasive issue, "to the point where professional athletes have to get off the fence. We all need to accept responsibility for our actions, and sports gives some of us a positive platform from which to send messages.

"My pure message? Do everything you can to take the opportunity to develop your potential. Have fun, be healthy and kind to others."

Connor impressed the crowd with a demonstration of his pommelhorse routine and Williams treated them to a few minutes of "rappin." The conference continues through Saturday noon.