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Undrafted: A Blessing In Disguise

I went undrafted. And now I’m heading into my 9th NFL season. Even though things worked out for me, each April the NFL Draft brings back memories of feeling not good enough. That feeling lights a fire under me year after year.

Let me give you some background. Coming out of college, I was projected to be a third to fifth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Back then, the draft was only two days long (the first through third round was on the first day and the fourth through seventh was on the second). That has changed as the years have gone on. Anyway, it was an exciting time. I had just completed a solid, four-year college career at the University of Central Florida, where I was named first-team All-Conference two years in a row and second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. After going to school in Orlando, just two hours from where I grew up in Tampa, I was used to having my family nearby. Waiting to find out if I’d be going to a team somewhere across the country made it a nerve-wrecking – but exciting – time. I was ready for the next chapter in my life.

On the first day, I remember thinking how happy I’d be if my name was called, but I didn’t want to have too many expectations. I knew for sure that I’d be getting called on the second day. Now it’s the second day, and I’m sitting there watching the draft on TV with my family. When the rounds kept passing me by and the phone wasn’t ringing, it started getting stressful. I actually had to leave the living room and get away from everybody for a bit. I couldn’t believe that my name hadn’t been called yet. You see certain players that you played against and guys that you never heard of get drafted and you’re like, “What is going on here?!”

Toward the end of the draft, I started getting calls from teams telling me that they would either draft me in the seventh round or they’d be interested in me as an undrafted free agent. I was getting calls left and right about that, but at the time I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I didn’t get drafted. I was in disbelief.

When you are projected to get drafted and you don’t, it kind of makes you reassess your life and your work ethic. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience, that’s for sure. I was definitely depressed, but after that subsided, the feelings of being “not good enough” lit a fire under me…a fire that continues to burn and keeps me going heading into my 9th NFL season. Since day one, I’ve had the mindset that there’s nobody who’s going to outwork me.

Looking back, I think it was all a blessing in disguise. Sixth and seventh rounders are practically free agents too, but when you are a true free agent, at least you get to choose where you want to go. You can see what teams do and don’t have, and what might be the best fit for you. I think that it was a blessing that after the fifth round I didn’t get drafted. I was able to make the best decision for me.

Think about it…you’ve got guys like Damon Harrison and Victor Cruz, both undrafted free agents, who made those big second deals. And I think there’s only one first rounder from my class who plays my position still in the league, and that’s my good friend Chris Long. I’ve outlasted everybody else. There are probably more undrafted guys still playing from my year, like Wallace Gilberry. It’s funny how that works out.

So with the NFL Draft getting started today, I have a few pieces of advice for these young players, whether or not they get drafted. Bottom line – it’s all about putting in the work. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. If you can outwork guys, even players who may have more talent than you, you can outlast them. And make sure you are versatile because playing more than one position will keep you in the NFL longer. There are so many moving parts in this league, and you have to be able to adapt. People that play in a box usually find themselves out of the league pretty fast. Also, as a rookie, latch on to a vet, and learn as much as you can. That will help you get your foot in the door. That’s what I did.

If the draft doesn’t go your way, you’ve got to flip the switch right away. You can’t get down and depressed about it. You can’t cry over spilled milk. Okay, so you didn’t get drafted. What are you going to do about it? My Dad would always say, “How bad do you want it?” To this day, I have a piece of paper on my bedroom door with my goals written on it, and I’ve got that question at the top. I think about that – how bad do I want it ? – every single day. I refuse to lose because nobody is ever going to outwork me. And in my mind, nobody is going to do the job better than me. You’ve got to think (and act) like that if you want to make it in this league.

As for my current situation, I’ve had a few offers, but I’m waiting to find the best situation for me. I’m not really worried; I know my value and what I bring to a team. It’s year 9 for me, and teams know what I can do. Of course I’ll be interested to see how the draft plays out and which way teams may lean. I don’t usually watch the first round because it literally takes for-e-ver, but I’ll be talking to my agent to get a review of what players went where. I just want to make sure I make the best decision for me and for my family. It’s not something I take lightly.

Good luck to all of the potential draftees these next few days. And remember: it’s all about how hard you work, not if and how high you get drafted.

Take it from me.

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