When Matt Stover first joined the Cleveland Browns in 1991, he didn't regard football as his permanent vocation.

"It wasn't a means to an end for me," Stover said in a telephone interview.

So, Stover, 44, spent his first three years with the Browns interning during the offseason at International Management Group preparing for the day he would stop kicking a pigskin for a living.

"The reason why was I didn't know if I was going to have some kind of career," Stover said. "My decision was to try to better myself."

Today, the retired Ravens Pro Bowl kicker is working as an NFL ambassador for the league's office of player engagement.

He travels around the country, talking to college players about the need to plan for life after football and learning how to become financially responsible.

"I'm telling them to utilize the resources you presently have in college and to make the best of your situation," Stover said. "Even if you do make it to the NFL, please approach it as a quick start in life. When you're done, even if you play 10 years in the NFL at best, you still have 40 years left in your life. That's a long time to make your cash work for you. You really have to manage it well. I don't care how much money you make whether you're a Drew Brees or a lowly free agent punter."

A fomer player union representative for 16 years, Stover said he also believes the NFL is being proactive now about addressing health concerns, including research and safety measures involving concussions.

The league is facing several concussion lawsuits from former players who have alleged that the NFL didn't do enough to educate them about the long-term danger of head injuries.

"I believe once the research came out and the NFL had a good understanding of brain issues, they made adjustments," Stover said. "As a kicker, I've got to be careful how I say this becaue I wasn't getting my head beat in every play, but it's an issue. The main thing we've got to work on is disability in the line of duty.

"That has to be addressed with regards to injuries and some of the things going on emotionally.  would love to see a player who's been injured or having physical problems when they're done be well taken care of."

The NFL has instituted more stringent procedures involving players with concussions to prevent them from going back in the game.

"I was on the sideline every time a player comes off with a concussion, or a ding or he got his bell rung," Stover said. "[Ravens team doctor] Andy Tucker, who's still my personal physician, did a phenomenal job of making sure the player is OK and able to perform or not. I do believe the NFL is being proactive with player safety issues, but it's an extremely violent sport. There's no getting away from that. There are risks and also great rewards, and I've always understood that."

awilson@baltsun.com