April 30, 2008. 8:00 am
Today is a rare day, you awake and your dream is just beginning.
The festivities begin with a scene I have witnessed before, but have never truly grasped the significance. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks out to the center of the stage and announces “The Detroit Lions are on the Clock.”
I flip my ringer on and wait for destiny to call.
The first 3 rounds, made of the premier collegiate players, took place yesterday. These are the guys the front office will depend on to immediately impact the direction of their franchise. As everyone interested does, I watched the first couple picks, mostly to see who will hold the title of #1 overall.
In today’s draft the first 2 rounds are instant millionaires. A ring of the telephone begins the spiral from unpaid collegiate player to wealthy professional.
After a few picks yesterday I decide to find the best distraction possible, working out. My phone was not going to ring yesterday and as an athlete I must protect my ego.
Today is different. Today I am projected to be one of the lucky few who get an invitation to continue living a dream. I prepare my typical breakfast of champions – Hard boiled eggs, cereal, and a protein shake.
Walking into the kitchen I can still feel the energy from ‘Sandstorm’ blaring off the walls the night before. The Beer pong table still set up and the floor still wet from the celebration. I wasn’t a part of this night, all this was happening as I lay in bed waiting for my dream to come true.
I never really imagined being a professional athlete growing up, but as I spoon my eggs from the boiling water, I allow my mind to wander. Where will I be headed when this day is done? San Diego, Kansas City, or what about the Dallas Cowboys?
I remember exactly when this fantasy became a dream.
‘Hey Son, what floor are the football offices on?’ an abrupt almost order from the older gentlemen next to me in the elevator.
“Third floor. I was heading up there myself.” I reply with a level of respect and intrigue. “Who can I help ya find?”
‘Well Jed, I am here to talk to Coach Doba and verify what we have been seeing on film.’
My look leads him into further explanation because even WSU cougar fans don’t recognize me, ‘I am a scout with the Chargers and we have had an eye on you’. The Chargers made the trip to Pullman to watch my film; an NFL team sees me as a possibility to play on Sundays?
This season, my senior season, has been a solid body of work. But it is my first year as a starter and although I love them, it is for a mid level team. I thought the NFL was reserved for the guys who started as freshman, for teams in big time Bowl games.
My biggest hurdle comes in the unknown of who I will be and how I will fit at the next level. My collegiate career began as a Linebacker, then a season at ‘fullback’ (spread offense and fullback doesn’t get much work), and finally landing as a TE. This is a problem when teams try to point to examples saying ‘we think he could develop into this type of player who can fill this role’. Pointing to Jeremy Shockey at 6’5 or Ben Watson at a 4.5 ‘40’, there is little future in me becoming an every down TE. Same story goes when looking at fullbacks Sam Gash or Mack Strong, traditional lead back bad asses that make a living as human battering rams. My love for the game is pure but I don’t know if I could walk onto the field and claim to be the baddest dude on it. I am an undersized TE, or inexperienced FB. A tweener who everyone begins to call an ‘H-Back’, the spot created to fill a void from the dinosaur fullback. The NFL game is going to a pass heavy offensive system, many teams aren’t even carrying a fullback on their 53 man roster, further limiting my chances.
Regardless of which label they give me, I begin to wonder if I could ever be considered the ‘best in the world’?
My decision to abstain from last night proves to be a wise one, as my roommates begrudgingly begin to wake. Not being hungover is a perk, but it’s hard missing out on the craziness and the memories. One of our D-linemen is now sitting in the hospital after punching a window which he claims was ‘talking shit’ – crazy and memorable. A part of me questions some of the ‘crazies’ that play this game, but I walk onto the field too.
I realize I am not good enough to cause problems, staying out of trouble won’t necessarily move me up any draft boards but it keeps me on them. After Pro Day my mediocrity is magnified and a couple teams have already lost interest, but I am still confident one of the 32 teams will request my services.
So far my interactions have been:
The New York Football Giants who called to bring me in for a workout, but it was the same weekend I was going to visit Seattle and they never offered another time. Not sure if this mean they lost interest. Wouldn’t assume something out of my control would deter them from being interested in me but somehow I feel like that door closed.
Seattle was an amazing visit. I went with a fellow Cougar teammate Michael Bumpis, together we got to peak into the NFL world. Walking through the locker room and sitting in their team room, you feel some similarities but understand how few get to claim those seats. Looking back I failed my interview a bit. In the running back meeting I was asked a simple question ‘whats you favorite play?’ Still with my receiving tight end mindset I answered – “ Its a boot off our zone scheme. All game I come from the wing spot back and cut off the backside end, then on the boot play I get to juke him and flood out into the flat.” Honest and innocent, but the message is I like getting the ball. Not what they want to hear from their hard-nosed fullback (#VET-TIP).
The San Diego Chargers coach has called several times, and when he says stuff like ‘We like you in our system’ it is like music to my ears. The catch comes when he explains – they like me, but not enough to draft me.A trade from last year has left them with limited picks and they will not be addressing the ‘need’ for TE or FB in this Draft.
The Cleveland Browns flew all the way out to Pullman to work me out and see me in person. Their TE coach and I went to the indoor facility on a cold Wednesday morning for me to prove to him I was worth the trip. He is an ex-player and still sizable man, so when he told me to hit the bag I let him know I had some pop. We ran routes but not being an ex- quarterback limited this drill, he said we were practicing for ‘bad balls’ and with only one drop I feel like I passed this test. The major test was to see when I would quit, every drill had some unnecessary sprint or tackle to see if I would quit. This tells him more about me than any drill.
Call from my agent to start the day reminds me ‘any team can take you today and try to enjoy the process’. These four teams are who I investigate online. Who is their coach, what is the offensive system, where is the depth chart sitting. Every time they are on the clock, could be my time!
9:45 am – Middle of the 5th Round
The Seahawks just took a ‘true’ fullback to begin the 5th! This really unsettles me after the Chargers took a RB/FB tweener in the 4th. I am the 5th ranked fullback and these players were rated above me, so not surprising. Still a gut punch feel as two of the teams interested are now completely out of the running. I quickly begin running down last year’s rosters to see who else carries a fullback. The list is around 17 teams and the reality is all of these jobs are technically filled.
Knowing how I must have read the last pick, my agent sends me a text. ‘The Draft s all about timing. Guys getting taken will make others with a need start to move’. What he means is a position starts to be taken off the table and teams inevitably begin to get unsettled, wanting to fill their need. Having a few fullbacks taken helps me because teams who were looking for a fullback now feel a sense of urgency.
Then I hear “The Cleveland Browns have traded up in the 5th round”. This is it, they came and worked me out, they have a need, and even their coach said he sees me fitting into their system. This dream school kids reply as their fantasy, is here. I will become a member of the National Football League!
“With the 132nd pick of the 2008 NFL Draft the Cleveland browns select LB from…” immediately I hear a large buzz, like in video games when your player is concussed. Tunnel vision and the only thing I can see is the name on the screen, it is not my name! Wait! What? That was my spot, my moment, my dream what went wrong?
The group here to experience this Dream, turns to console – ‘don’t worry there are plenty of picks left’. They don’t understand, there maybe 100 picks left but I only have so many chances with teams who want a ‘tweener’. The Chargers and Hawks are out, the Giants lost interest, and the Browns just traded away their 6th round pick. A pit begins forming in my stomach as the names continue to tick off.
Alright, the beginning of the 7th and final round.
Ring Ring! “Hello” Immediately everyone in the room perks up. We have seen this scene on the TV. I will tear up, my brother will stand for a hug, and my roommates will begin the celebration.
‘Hey is this Jed?’
‘Jed this is Brian Adams, a scout with the Atlanta Falcons’. Atlanta? I check my list and know they use a fullback. ‘I am doing a preliminary call to make sure this number was accurate. We are discussing taking a fullback with our next pick and wanted to be ready’. I shit you not; he was calling to verify if I would pick up! Where would I be?
A message to every NFL team – You have my complete and undivided attention, but feel free to Draft me even if I don’t pick up the phone.
The room full of eyes seem to be staring now with a pitty behind the hope. Everyone is growing a little antsy, I am supposed to be experiencing a dream and yet after the sound check I begin feeling like the last kid picked at recess. The tide has turned and the anxious excitement begins to feel like disappointing pressure. The voice – ‘Maybe you aren’t good enough?’
“We can get him after”
Ring Ring! “Hello” ‘Hey Jed this is Coach Henderson with the Kansas City Chiefs. I am in charge of the running back group and wanted to connect because we have a need at fullback. My mind and spirit immediately bounce back with a new dream- I can go be a Chieftain.
‘Jed I have seen your toughness and love for the game on film, that is the type of guy we need.’ As Coach is telling me about the attitude he needs from his fullback a voice breaks in.
“Joe we can get him after”.
Who was that? Was that one of the other coaches, and did he actually just say that?! That is the type of message written on a piece of paper or whispered in the ear away from the speaker, anything other than letting me here you kill my dream. Quickly Coach Henderson rebounds,
‘Jed, I think you have a chance to fit in our system, be ready.’ Click!
There are only 5 picks left; Kansas City does hold the rights to Mr. irrelevant. The Mr. Irrelevant pick is actually an interesting aspect of the Draft. It was decided that the #1 picks got too much attention and no one seemed to care who the last pick of the Draft was, so they changed the irrelevance into an honor. Going so far as giving him marketing deals and a parade!
- I escape the whole ordeal the only way I know how, writing. Allowing myself to escape this moment by analyzing and documenting it. I sit scribbling away when I hear, “with the last pick of the 2008 NFL draft the Kansa City Chiefs select” (you never realize how long of an introduction that is until you are holding your breath). As the introduction goes on I realize my phone hasn’t rang and whoever is about to be named, won’t be me.
It is over, I wasn’t drafted.
My name didn’t flash at the bottom of the screen and the moment of fulfilling a lifelong dream is gone. Humbled to the reality that among the collegiate options I wasn’t high enough to crack onto this prestigious list. Humility is a tough pill to swallow and the thought brings me back to the insecure freshman wondering- Can I play at this level?
That can’t be it, my dream can’t be over. I am not ready to wake up! A lifetime spent working for today, months entirely focused on a 4 second run and a phone call. Failing so publically is a knock I have never experienced. Just confused on what happened, it doesn’t make sense. Everyone told me it was ’guaranteed’, Fourth round may have been dreams of grandeur but round 6 or 7?
I did everything I was asked. Sure I am a little slow, but watch me play. Sure I got hurt, but that was my ‘work hard’ nature backfiring. Sure I am a tweener, but that only speaks to the fact I can do a lot.
Then I consider my competition. How many others had a lot of catches, were All Conference, and also much more? How many aren’t slow, didn’t get hurt, and know exactly where they will fit?
There is no time to sulk, my phone begins to ring again.
Ring Ring! It’s my agent Derrick Fox ‘I know where you are at right now but there are teams interested in bringing you in as a priority Free Agent’. He explains that this can actually be better than a late round pick because now I get to pick where I go. This can be more beneficial after getting a chance to weigh my opportunities.
I am caught up on the term “priority’. Only so many have a chance to hear their name called, as of right now most still aren’t getting a phone call. Some are just hoping for an invite, not even a contract, to a camp of 60 where maybe 3 or 4 are kept. I begin to see my situation in a different light. It stings knowing I was not needed, but my dream is still alive!
Veteran Experience Tip (VET): if your phone is buzzing the week before the draft, you are much less likely to have it buzz the day of. By Draft week teams have made their decisions. You can either add value to their team or not.
San Diego: they have been calling the past few weeks. They were very clear they do not see me as draft caliber. They are the first to dial once the Draft is over. ‘Jed I don’t know how many OC’s are going to get on the phone with you, but here is coach McMahon our offensive coordinator’. “Jed I am sorry today didn’t work the way you had expected but we have a role for a guy like you. You would be a great fit in our system.” I can’t explain it but even after I went undrafted it still hurts that these guys never saw me as a draft pick. Plus they took a RB/FB in the third round. How would I make the team competing against whoever they had last season and a draft pick?
(Veteran perspective: To this day I wonder if they really thought I fit a position, after bouncing around I did see a role in their system that I thought was perfect for me. But I burned a bridge and that is the one thing you can’t do in business.)
Kansas City: They use a fullback and with a premier running back, its a role they appreciate. I know they have moved on from their guy last year and they are very up front with bringing in 4 fullbacks to compete. The offer is $10,000 to come to minicamp where my agent tells me only 3 of us will make it past the 1st camp. It hits me ‘we get paid for this!’ But I remember a scene in Hard Knocks where Coach Edwards asks if this guy could be their ‘thumper’? I am not sure I could be a thumper. I don’t mind hitting, even enjoy letting out my aggressions at times. But to have my job criteria be as simple as: hammer meet nail. I believe I can do more and honestly don’t know if I could do that.
(Veteran Perspective: I didn’t research enough. First the primary job requirement of every NFL fullback is to thump! Second the Offensive Coordinator in KC came from college, and that college is graduating their fullback. Last the staff was on the hot seat, and being a bubble guy is not something you want to start back at square one every year.)
Ring Ring “Jed how would you like to come be a Philadelphia Eagle?” I can almost hear the man on the other end of the phone smiling. I begin chatting with Coach Johnson, the Eagles RB coach and it’s like I am sitting at a family reunion. His tone is cool and welcoming, amongst the pleasantries he mentions as if matter of fact, ‘I think you could contribute on teams and be our starting fullback’. Just how he says it makes me picture myself with an Eagles helmet on. The Eagles and Niners were my two favorite teams growing up. They will be returning a 3rd year practice squad player and the competition will be between him and me. He is just a practice squad player, he didn’t make the roster last year and I won’t let him make it this year. To sweeten the deal they offer $21,000. Double the money with half the competition, Fly Eagles Fly!
(Veteran Perspective: I would come to despise my own words, ‘he is just a practice squad player’. I had no understanding the little difference between the two designations, or the line waiting to take the spot. Everyone not solidified as a starter fights the same battle. Philly would also wake me up to two lessons: 1) Seeing the pieces in the system: the Eagles brought in a ‘ME’ type of player every year, would use him for a look, grind him in camp, and be done. Their system did not require a traditional fullback, prime example the guy I would be competing with 2) How much your place on a team is impacted outside your play: Draft, Money, veteran, skins, and if you are declared simply a ‘winner’.)
Today was a failure. The sting will come again having to explain over and over at the bar.‘Oh hey Zilla! You get drafted?’
The deep sting will be waking up tomorrow feeling like the Dream is over.
You are only defeated when you accept it.
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