From my perspective
Since I was a little kid, Sunday's in the fall were meant for three things only. Church, finishing homework, and football. As a kid (and I look up the Lord asking forgiveness as I say this), I was only ever worried about 1:00 kick off. Mom would usually make appetizers and fall asleep on the couch until the Sunday Night game, and dad and I would watch any game we could get. His Sunday Ticket upgrade was appreciated years later. Growing up we watched the Clinton Portis, Kurt Warner, Ray Lewis, Jerome Bettis, and Randy Mosses of the league. Kids walking around the street on Sunday afternoon with all different kinds of player jerseys on their backs. I stopped being a "jersey wearer" fairly early. But I grew up with Marshall Faulk, Mike Vick, and Kurt Warner's jerseys.
Living in St. Louis of course you pick up the home town team.
I never played football until 8th grade, but I always loved the sport and played weekly on the streets with my friends. Tackle, touch, snow football, you name it. Looking back on growing up around football and watching it a much as I could, it always brings a certain feel back. I feel like I say nostalgia a lot but it is. Those memories on Sunday afternoons were some of my favorites as a child. And as a youngin', if you told me I would've been playing in elite stages of the sport I would've chuckled, knowing that baseball and basketball for so much of my childhood were my two loves.
Football progressed faster than I expected. Looking back I would describe it as almost a blur. Entering my second season ever as a freshman in high school, I was on the verge of letting it go because of the lack of confidence about my skillset and just the fact that I thought I wanted to focus more on baseball. That changed when I found out I would be playing varsity and also with the help of the baseball club I played for burning me out. I vowed to stick it out and work to see what this new sport could bring to the table. The coaching change post-freshman season is what settled in the early parts of confirmation that I may have a future in football. Coach Chadwick seemed to see something in me as a player that I was completely blind to. I trusted him and looked to take hold of the new role he saw for me on the team. I was able to play with some great boys alongside me on Friday nights, and it eventually led to multiple offers to play at the next level. Something that really made me take football a bit more serious. Not only did my coach see something in me, but so did college staffs.
So I worked, committed, and played throughout my college years. I joke that the term "played" is used loosely. But it was a privilege that had to be taken advantage of and that not many were able to experience. I finished at Wake Forest, with an amazing staff and more people that believed in me as a player and a man. Fine tuning me for the next level's opportunity. If it came. I didn't think of the NFL being an opportunity so much at South Carolina. I honestly saw others before me and above me and figured I knew how it worked. The starters made it to the show with a very small percentage of guys like me getting a shot. I got a shot and am currently still shooting my shot.
But this is more of a view on how this shot, this journey has been. Again, fairly brief.
I have played for the Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, and currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I had a short stint (a week) with the Seattle Seahawks but that unfortunately happens sometimes. Blessed nonetheless. Throughout each stepping stone of this rigorous but amazing path, I've realized the vast majority of outsiders that, understandably, don't know the ins and outs of the other vast majority in the league.
I was an undrafted free agent, which obvious by context, means I did not get selected throughout the 7 rounds of the NFL draft. I was called directly after the last player was selected (along with any others around the country waiting for a call) to sign a contract with the Raiders. So no, in this case undrafted guys don't have negotiations in their contracts really like first and second rounders do. Personally, I didn't care where I was picked up or whether it was a tryout. I wanted a chance. That's all anyone could've asked for.
90 guys also go into the off season. As opposed to the 53 that are finalized post training camp and pre-season. These are all things that I never really knew throughout the my childhood and even through the beginning of college. I found out quickly that many of the guys I met that were in our rookie class and even a lot that were multi-year players, were in a similar boat as me. Nothing was guaranteed for us. A small percentage of the league have big sums of guaranteed money in their contracts. And many guys have to fight year in and year out to keep or beat out someone for a job. Again, something that I was not quite aware of. I never knew the business side of it. The stereotypes is all most people really had to go off of, and I never had the want to research that side of it.
I tell everyone:
"It's eye opening at first, but you really can't show that."
Meaning, all my life I grew up wanting to play in the NFL, the MLB, or the NBA. I played multiple sports and all I knew is that I wanted to compete at the highest level. So as a kid naturally you have this "vision" of what it would be like. What it would be like to play beside some of the people that looked up to in your respective sport. I can honestly say, you walk in and just kind of go. You go to work. You work so hard for something and along the way the steps you're taking are steps that are necessary to reach it. So for me, I never felt like I could sit there in awe of where I was and what I had the opportunity to do. That seemed like a waste of time when my goal was to compete with those guys and make this team. They had people to feed and bills to pay too. They don't care about my wide-eyed jaw drops in the front entrance of the facility. Line up and play bruh.
Don't get me wrong, I still to this day sit back and think to myself:
"I really am playing in the league I dreamed of playing in as a kid."
You have to. There's no way anyone hasn't done that at least once post entering the league. It's always been dream to us. You have to appreciate it.
Fast forward to my first year in Oakland. I played the whole year on practice squad. Practice squad is a group of 10 guys on each team. Practice, workout, meetings. Everything throughout the week is pretty much the exact same for us as it is for the active guys. The only difference is Sundays, we're not suiting up. Oh and a little difference in pay. During the season I never realized the job security of practice squad. The way I am when I have a role, no matter on or off the field, I intend to fulfill that role. When I have my mindset of a specific role, I fulfill my current role, while working to elevate to that end goal. That whole season I tried to get bumped up to active. Although, it never happened, I felt secure in Oakland. It was an awesome season. Even with the urge to play and contribute to the team on Sundays, I felt that whenever I went onto that field I competed and helped guys get prepared and even get better. As I got better myself.
It wasn't until year 2 that I understood the practice squads and business.
My first true cut was by Oakland without any reaffirming notion that practice squad at would be an option. In the weeks following, heading to workouts with other teams in hopes to sign that day and not. Signing with a team and being released that weekend. I hadn't seen that side of the game. It was new. You hear it and you see some teammates go through it, but for some including me, it takes it happening to fully understand. I get it though. There is constant talent circulating the halls of these facilities. Ages range from 20/21 to 40 years old. Weekly, the heads of each team try to combine the best they have for that Sunday's game. With one expectation in mind. WIN.
Every day is a job interview.
You know the preparation you take for a job you've been anticipating. You want the job badly, so of course, you prepare. You study the company, you fine tune your skills. You want to be the best "future employee" they see that day. Interview day is a big day for so many.
From the moment I step onto the facility's grounds, every day after that is a job interview. And I mean... Every. Day. The way we interact in the cafeteria, locker room, and weight room. The way we are in meetings, in the training room, and in the halls even. The combination of character and skills is what's kept the NFL to as high of standards as possible. Teams don't always want just good players. They want a combination of player and person. That is what I have come across, at least.
From practice squad you can get bumped up to active roster. That means it's gametime buddy.
Sunday is go time.
That is what happened to me in Indy. The last five games of my second season were active. To know that hard work and dedication was noticed by your peers is one of the reasons why you play the game. Respect of the guys next to you. Before that, it had been an up and down roller coaster of a career. And following has been too. Getting hurt after one pre-season game, in my situation, just can't happen.
I know that availability for a guy like me is just as important as catching a ball throughout individual period. No matter how well I though I did throughout camp, missing 3 pre-season games wasn't going to cut it. Being released after that, really because of an injury, wasn't a solid feeling. Personally, it was a low for me. But I knew what I had to do to continue to prove myself and keep striding toward my goals. I rehabbed majority of the season, along with multiple workouts for multiple teams. No luck. Until finally the Bucs called, and I signed. I finished the season with them last season. I plan to do what I know I can and gain another team's respect. So that they know on Sundays, they can trust the man next to them.
Up until now, I've seen just about every part of the NFL that most people don't get insight on. The talks I've had with people about the cuts, workouts, job securities, and grind has been eye opening for me. It reminds me at the same time, that I was the same way three years ago. Didn't know half of what happens. Which I get, because the Ikes of ESPN and newspapers only have so much time and room to report on the game. Plus, people don't want to hear this stuff. They want to know who the big sign of the day was, or what this guy did in OTA #5.
"GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT!"
But what is cool, in a weird way, is that I can shed some light on the other stuff. I say in a way because some of these stepping stones haven't been the ones that I would've liked to step on, but on this path you can't choose your own. It's not always glamorous. Actually, it really is rarely glamorous. But I wouldn't change any of it. I've worked too hard to complain or to feel sorry for myself during the times of getting cut or injured. I have felt pressure for sure, but nowhere near the type of pressures that the average person goes through on a daily basis. True pressure and sometimes true struggle. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to play this game alongside elite players, coaches, and staff. I have formed lifetime friendships and connections that I couldn't have ever imagined. This has all built me into the guy I am today. Not just as a football player but as a person. It's life. I will continue to work for my goals this season. My road is still long as I look ahead. Throughout this upcoming camp and on. I wake up everyday and play football. I can't complain doing what I love. Many have it worse. But just like any job, sometimes it does get hard. But when you look at the big picture and put everything into perspective: you really can't beat it.