Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Senior Bowl

The plane jumped and juked through the air. Over 20 college football players on board clasped their seats riding out the turbulent, storm filled air. Five minutes into the decent and panic was aboard the plane, though some joked about the rough air, many were praying and some, like myself sat statue still. We flew over the gulf of Mexico to begin a week of football practice in Mobile Alabama and all that shitty plane ride did was compound my nerves heading into an unknown world of professional sports.
Playing football at Utah State University doesn't exactly garner respect in the world of professional football. Yea, I destroyed Troy State's defense, caught 13 balls in Moscow Idaho and put up three scores against the Mean Green, but seriously, we're not talking about good football here. After two months of off season work and a wild plane trip, I was ready to show off my skills against the supposed best players in college football. The Senior Bowl is supposed to be the week where draft status is earned or lost, especially from a no-name tight end out of Utah State named Chris Cooley.

Over a hundred players arrive every year into the slow, quiet community of Mobile . The laid back town is filled with some of the nicest people you will ever meet. Guys will awkwardly gather and make their way on buses over to the hotel, many wondering what to expect and some ready for a beer drinking, Hooter's eating, bowl friendly atmosphere. Guys walk into the hotel glad handing each other, many teammates and most playing against each other for the last couple years. I arrived in Mobile nearly alone, and nervous. No one gave me a beer.

The first night there is a team meeting playbook installation. Learn your shit because practice is the next day and I quickly learned that practices are full tilt, balls to the wall. There is a wall of men smothering every play, and it's not just a couple scouts, it's head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators. There is a beat everybody's ass attitude, or go home and be ashamed of what you've done. It's a chance for small school stars to earn big time respect, to show that I don't give a fuck that someone went to Ohio State or USC. Practices really are the game and with the practice week usually ending on Thursday all the coaches head back to their respective teams. How a guy practices and works is what teams want to know.
When practice ends a job interview begins and it's a strange process because you're interviewing for 32 teams and all of them want to talk about different, weird shit. Teams schedule meetings with guys throughout the night, usually ending around 12 o'clock, just depending on how much interest coaches have in a guy. My first night in Mobile I was interviewed by only one team, the Washington Redskins. Throughout the week my solid play yielded more and more interviews. In my meetings I was asked questions ranging from "What do you think about cover 2? Tell us what you love about playing football?" to the popular "When was the last time you smoked marijuana?" Really, it's funny that they even ask you, most of the time they already know, because they've studied your life, but you look head coaches in the eyes and answer and you answer honestly. "No I've never smoked marijuana. Yes, I breathe football."

As the week concludes and coaches filter out, the idea of some relief creeps in. Of course there is still the block I missed on Tuesday against that dude from Notre Dame and the time the guy from Oregon mauled me on the one on one route, but at least I don't have Parcells' condescending fat ass staring at me anymore.

Saturday rolls around and everyone feels the same way, just play the game and get the hell out of town. Though I played every other drive, I felt like I counted down every second on the clock. The whole time wondering why it couldn't continuously run. Again, the game didn't seem to have the same significance as the week and it may have showed in my play. I managed only one catch and was beaming when I walked out of the locker room for the last time in Mobile.

Looking back the plane ride was the perfect prelude to my experience. Sometimes the way there is a bag of shaken shit, but everybody's gotta put in the work to get where they want to be. Although I cringe as I watch those guys running around in Mobile this week, it is and will continue to be one of the best opportunities to make a name in the NFL.

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