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Rashard Mendenhall on life as an early NFL retiree

When former NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall announced his retirement a year ago at age 26, he had no idea he’d be a trendsetter. But in the past two weeks, five NFL players aged 30 or younger have announced their retirement — the most notable among them a pair of San Francisco 49ers linebackers, Pro Bowler Patrick Willis and 2014 third-round pick Chris Borland. While Mendenhall was adamant that nagging injuries (like Willis) or concern about the long-term effect of head injuries (like Borland) did not lead him to an early retirement, he admires their decision to retire under their own terms.

Now perhaps Mendenhall can serve as an example for those players, and for other new retirees like former Titans quarterback Jake Locker and former Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds, about how to successfully — and rapidly — transition into a life that no longer has football in it.

“I’m really encouraged, and I just think it’s cool that guys are realizing that you don’t have to do it. It’s been a thing where you feel like you have to. Even for me, there were people around me, friends and family, that didn’t understand. And you feel like even if you want to stop, you can’t,” Mendenhall said. “I think what’s cool now and what’s encouraging, is guys realize you really can stop, if that’s what you want to do. It is possible, and guys are doing it. There is another life apart from football, and you can be happy. You can still work. It’s encouraging to see guys say, ‘If it feels right, I can do this.’ ”

Mendenhall, a first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008 who won a Super Bowl ring as a rookie, said on Tuesday about the new life he’s built for himself in Hollywood as a writer for the upcoming HBO television series Ballers, which is scheduled to premiere in June. He has moved to Los Angeles, become a full member of the Writer’s Guild and hasn’t ever wondered what his life would have been like if he had tried to continue his NFL career.