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David Kohl, Associated Press
Cincinnati Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (42) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens free safety Matt Elam (26) in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Cincinnati.

SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Elam has a lot going for him. He is likable, talented and rich. He was fourth in tackles for the Baltimore Ravens, earning $3.7 million as a rookie.

Beyond that, he has a plan.

This off-season he is working in Gainesville, Fla., at the Finish Line, a sport shoe store in the mall. His point: learn the business he will someday own.

“I just need to get retail knowledge,” he said on the team’s website.

Reno Mahe can relate. He too took a side job in the off-season while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. The former BYU player waited tables at a sports grill called Chickie’s and Pete’s.

The difference, says Mahe, is that Elam has a blueprint.

Mahe was just trying to avoid wasting time.

“This kid is way beyond where I was,” says Mahe. “He has an idea what he wants to do with his life. He wants to buy some of these places. I was never looking at being in the restaurant business.”

The point of these stories is that there really are athletes who aren’t entitled. Mahe became a Philadelphia favorite when news broke that he was working in the off-season for $7 an hour in 2004.

“I just happened to be eating there — they took care of us — and I asked them, ‘Would you let me work with you?’ and they said yeah,” he says.

At the same time, Mahe admits he wasn’t watchful with his money. Sports Illustrated reported that 78 percent of NFL players go bankrupt within five years of retirement.

“I was one of those football players,” Mahe says. “After retiring a couple of years, I was thinking I knew what I was doing. I had to go through bankruptcy and it was definitely an experience in itself.”

Mahe’s experience wasn’t unlike that of ex-Ute Luther Elliss, who also went bankrupt after earning more than $11 million in the NFL. Elliss says a lot of his wealth was spent on paying medical and educational bills for relatives and friends and getting bad financial advice.

Says Mahe: “We were told to get with people who are smarter than us, but a lot of times they’re not the most honest, and so I feel for some of the athletes, because I had to go through it myself. I was told your money needs to work for you. I gave half the money to my family — I’d do that again every time — but I was giving the other half of the money to people who were supposedly smarter than me.”

Mahe is determined to atone for his mistakes. He works in “environmental cleanup,” for a company he founded but lost.

“Because of my financial situation, I’m now part of the company and trying to earn my way back into it,” he says.

The culture of having things handed to pro athletes has taught Mahe some painful lessons. Everyone wanted to do a favor for the likable kid from Brighton High. That included someone in Utah who gave him an access code to get gas for free. Mahe says he thought it was just another perk of being a former NFL player. In 2012 he pleaded no contest to theft. After 18 months, charges were dismissed.

Mahe vows to repay all creditors affected by his bankruptcy.

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“No excuses,” Mahe says. “I’m blaming myself. All the blame lies on me, but the lessons are something that no one will ever take from me. I promise you this: all the money, I still plan to pay back, even though they can’t take it back from me. I used the money, so I’m definitely going to pay them back.”

Mahe says his advice for Elam is that players should approach business the way they approach sports.

“Invest in yourself, do what you did to get to get to the NFL. Just like the NFL, where you’re wearing protective gear … do exactly the same thing with the people around you. You can protect yourself, if you surround yourself with good people.”

And never, ever take the field unprepared.

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