By: Darius Williams
Looking to drop a few pounds off my frame, I ventured into my neighborhood LA Fitness health club. I am met by this young gentleman who stands about 6’1″ and probably tips the scales at a lean 190 lbs. He is a Sales Rep/Personal Trainer for the club. He summons me over to his glass encased cubicle to make an attempt to sell me on a membership. After taking a seat, I quickly noticed a nicely framed 8″ x 10″ picture of someone in a San Diego Chargers football uniform. I asked who the player was and he reluctantly said it was him.
Curious at this point as to who he was, I asked him how long he played in the league. After about a five second pause, he said “for a month”. No further explanation was needed for his short stint as a player. Immediately I was able to read into it as him being “camp meat” for the Charger organization. For those who are unfamiliar with that term, please continue reading because clarity will soon ensue. As he began to take me on my tour of the facility, I interrupted him. I asked what was that experience like, trying to make an NFL roster. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy” he said.
Last week, training camp for all NFL teams kicked off. A month long test of sheer will and intestinal fortitude. A month for many to try and fulfill a childhood dream of playing professional football. A month to try and catch the eyes of the coaching staff. A month to be just a camp body. A month to become one of the 1,184 players who weren’t good enough to make an NFL roster.
An NFL team carries only 53 players on their active roster. That number is met after league wide cuts that take the 90 players who suit up the first day down to 75. Shortly thereafter, the number gets reduced by 22 more, ending up with their best 53. An additional 10 players are kept on the practice squad for each team, securing a weekly stipend of $6,300 as long as they can remain there.
The first scheduled league cut day for this year is September 1st. Dreams of many young men will be shattered. Many who really didn’t have a chance in the world of making it anyway. They were only brought in to be what basically equates to human tackling dummies. Day in and day out getting trounced by All Pro players who are attempting to master their positional craft at the expense of some poor guy who will be working at Home Depot when the regular season starts.
September 1st will mark the end of the road for a group of young men who have played the game they love for 15 years in some cases, dating back to the little league days. They were probably “The Man” at age 8 and had that lore extended well into their college days. However, becoming one of the 1,696 that make an active NFL roster may beyond the scope of their ability. Knowing this, the drive to fulfill that dream usually outweighs logical thinking. Soon they find themselves slowly getting off the the ground after yet another ‘pancake block’ by the teams Pro Bowl guard he is matched up against.
I once attended a Dallas Cowboys training camp in the mid 1990’s down in Austin. I vividly remember an undrafted rookie running back, who was trying hard to make an impression on the coaching staff, get hit by 8 of the 11 starters on defense. Mouth bloodied, he returned to the huddle and ran the same play. This time all 11 starters tee’d off on him. There was an appreciation for his display of toughness amongst those of us in the crowd. The coaches obviously weren’t as impressed as he was cut the next day while on the training room table getting his separated shoulder looked at by the team’s training staff.
As we sit right now, there are almost 2,900 hopefuls scattered throughout camps of the 32 NFL teams. Soon all the drills will stop. The wind sprints after practice will cease as well as those not fortunate enough to be one of the 1,696 to secure a minimum of $405,000 for 17 weeks of work will have to make a living another way. Hopefully they didn’t flood there college transcripts with an array of ‘Bird Watching’ and ‘Basket Weaving’ courses. A degree plan that is in high demand hopefully was the route of academia for them. If they are fortunate enough to survive camp injury free, hopefully implementing their ‘Plan B’ is encouraged. After all, that $925 a week pay to get decapitated daily on the field can be made a lot easier selling membership packages at their local health club.