Todays report is about the plight of the small school undrafted NFL free agent. The process and expectations if you will. At least from the view of this kid back in 1993.
A remarkable thing happened back in the spring of 1992 there at old Memorial Stadium. “Pro Day” for us included a scout from the Patriots and a general scout who was unaffiliated. We ran 40 yard dashes. I don’t remember what I ran but it was probably a 4.5 something…nothing extraordinary or remarkable…but my team mate and best friend Anthony Brooks did do something remarkable…a 4.18 timed by those scouts. They couldn’t believe it. His second run came and they got him at a 4.19 that time…wow! They asked him to run a 3rd one which was unprecedented during those days…he ran a 4.22 and they officially decided that he was fast.
Over the course of the 92 season a scout from every NFL team made the trek to little old Commerce to watch film (we had just upgraded from the reels to vcr…lol) on ETSU. Of course in the course of their angst to view Anthony a lot of other people also stood out. As the season ended there were a few seniors who were dubbed the pro “suspects”. Anthony, the all everything CB Eric Turner, the “Hit Man” Curtis Buckley, tackle Big Earl Bell and myself.
When the draft arrived the new CBA agreed to had reduced the number of rounds from like 12 to 7 for the first time. Each of us had gotten agents and Anthony’s told him he had the best chance to get drafted. As the final pick was announced none of our names had been called but soon after each of our agents were fielding calls for the services of these “longshot suspects”. Anthony got several offers including a nice one from San Diego. Man I would have loved to go there. Instead my agent called me and told me my 2 choices which were either New Orleans or Philadelphia. I liked New Orleans but they had 4 receivers I could name right off the top of my head while Philly had only the 2 starters so it was an easy decision for me. I was Philly bound. Eric was going to the Dolphins and Buckley got a deal with the Buccaneers. Earl had to settle for an arena league team. Anthony you wonder…well he told his agent to see what Philly was offering and we ended up there together.
Being from small school competing with and against kids from the old SWC, Big 10, SEC and other major conferences put us at a disadvantage as they had better competition so we were required to work much harder to get noticed. Rookie mini camp was the following week after the draft and what an eye opener. First thing I learned was the NFL is a business first and foremost. We weren’t playing just for fun anymore. There were 2nd and 3rd year guys there also but the receivers were just athletes mostly. When we went back for a week long camp the vets showed up except for one holdout…their top receiver Fred Barnett. We were given a great opportunity. Randall Cunningham was the QB and guess who’s locker was right next to mines? The great Hershel Walker. I was awe struck. After the camp on the flight back to Dallas he gave me and Anthony his number and told us to come “work out” with him. I took the number but having heard about his workouts and as you all know by now how fond I wasn’t of working out (to my own detriment) I wasn’t gonna be doing that…lol.
As it turned out after a couple of camps I had made a decent impression on my position coach heading into training camp. I felt good that both Anthony and I had a good chance to make the team even with the eagles drafting a receiver from Missouri University in the 3rd round. He was a great talent but like the other returners he had a issue learning the playbook. After 2 camps I was on top of it and knew what every skill player had to do on each pass play. We didn’t even have to worry about the run plays.
Day one of training camp arrived and it spelled disaster for me. Running a play on that Wednesday of day 1 during the morning work out I felt a sharp tweak in my leg. A strained hamstring. Wow not now. Turns out my lack of preparation caught up with me. Sat out of practice rehabbing and watching until that Sunday came. On that Friday one of the draft pick holdouts had signed so they needed a spot to remove. That Sunday morning the player personnel director called me to his office. He explained to me that they were gonna cut me since I had not practiced in camp basically. Gave me two choices, wait a few days until I get the clearance from the doctors or sign the release now and go home. I was shocked to say the least. I asked him so I can hang around a few days and get cut or sign this paper and go home today and his answer was yes. My reply was so either way I am outta here and again he said yes. Well I signed it and that was my worst mistake.
Anthony, who was my roommate was more furious than I was. I called my agent and first thing he asked was “you didn’t sign anything did you?”. Well yes I did and he was like no you shouldn’t have. My position coach came to my dorm room. He was furious also. “Please tell me you haven’t signed anything have you?” he asked and to my disdain it was a sad yes.
Hey it was a longshot to begin with but I was back on Dallas that same day and signed to play arena ball on Tuesday as my old teammate, coach and friend Mike Trigg gave me another chance. Anthony gave his signing bonus back and left Philly 2 days later. Eric was cut later in his camp but a jewel was found for the Buccaneers in Buckley. His hard work paid off for him. He parlayed his opportunity into a longer than average career of at least 9 years I believe and was a team captain with the great Steve Young on the 49ers. So as you see…opportunity will come and how you prepare for them will almost always determine your outcome. We have 3 suspects going to camps this year and hopefully they get to the right systems where they will be able to turn their “4th and longshots” into 1st downs!