RENTON — For a few players, the big names in this year’s draft class, the weekend was a beginning of a career that is almost sure to include big money and several years in the NFL.
For quite a few more who were on the field for the Seahawks’ rookie minicamp, however, it was a precious opportunity to chase a dream that didn’t begin with hearing their names on draft day, and a dream that — let’s be honest for a second — will end for most of them without an NFL contract.
If the undrafted free agents who teams sign immediately after the draft are fighting an uphill battle to make a roster, then tryout players on hand this weekend, players like Kamiak High School grad Bryson Kelly, are the longest of long shots.
Even so, chances like these are what keep so many NFL dreamers going even when logic says it’s time to move on to life after football.
“It’s been great,” said Kelly, who played running back in high school and college but now plays fullback. “It’s just an honor to get back on a football field and just get to compete and work for it. I’m just trying to go hard on special teams, go hard on everything I do. Just go full speed and do my best.”
The unfortunate reality for tryout players like Kelly is that doing their best won’t likely get them a spot on the Seahawks’ roster. Of the 58 players on hand for the rookie minicamp, 24 had contracts — the 10 players Seattle drafted last month, 11 undrafted free agents, and three other non-rookie free agents. Of those 24, it’s unlikely that more than a dozen will make Seattle’s final roster, so what kind of chance do the 34 tryout players possibly have? Well that’s a question players like Kelly refuse to answer.
After going undrafted out of Central Washington in 2011 Kelly signed with Oakland last year but was cut prior to the Raiders’ final preseason game, which happened to be in Seattle. When no other offers came, Kelly ended up back in Mukilteo. He kept in shape, did some construction work, and refused to believe that his football career was over.
“After I got waived, I had a talk with my family and we had a sit-down and I said, ‘I’m going to go for it one more time,’ and since then I’ve been training nonstop,” he said.
After this year’s draft, the Seahawks called Kelly’s agent to see if he’d like to participate in their rookie minicamp.
“My agent called me the day after the draft talking about the Seahawks, and I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Kelly said.
Every tryout player has big dreams, but they also know they aren’t getting a chance strictly because teams are interested to see what they can do. The fact is that for a minicamp without veterans to be functional, teams need bodies. Will the Seahawks find a diamond in the rough when they review tape from the weekend? Possibly. But the more realistic scenario is that they will thank players like Kelly for their time and wish them luck in their future endeavors. But even if tryout players are just there to help facilitate three days of practice, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, someone who dreamed of playing professionally but never got that chance, fully appreciates dreamers like Kelly.
Carroll told reporters Sunday how, after his senior year at the University of the Pacific, the two-time All-Pacific Coast Conference free safety drove to a news stand to scan the list of every player drafted, and was dejected when his name was nowhere to be found.
“Nothing, man,” Carroll said. “I was so bummed. I’m so glad these guys get this chance here and to have this opportunity. I’m still mad about that. For these guys to have this chance to get out here and be in the NFL for a weekend and show what they can do, they’ll never forget it and I think it means a ton to them. It’ll mean a lot more when they have a chance to come back to camp and make it and all that too, but this is a first step for a lot of those guys, and for some of these guys, it’ll be their only step. We try to treat these days with them with a lot of respect for where their hearts are and all that.”
Yes Kelly knows he’s fighting an uphill battle, but whether it is with the Seahawks or some other team, he will keep chasing his NFL dream until teams stop calling, and he’ll be doing it for one reason — the thing that drives every dreamer out there.
“I know I belong playing out here,” he said. “I know it.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.