It was perhaps the worst day of Dustin Stanton’s football career.
In the spring of 2014, the Oregon State University football coaches approached Stanton and told him he had to switch positions — from tight end to offensive line. It meant the Lakewood High School graduate was leaving behind the position he’d known and loved — the one that earned him a college scholarship in the first place — and was headed to the trenches, where there’s plenty of grind but little glory.
However, this week, that position switch paid off in full.
Stanton is getting his shot at football’s biggest stage as the Oregon State offensive lineman signed as an undrafted free agent with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s definitely a little surreal,” Stanton said about signing with the Bengals. “But it feels right, it feels like I belong. I’m ready to be in the NFL and to get after it.”
Stanton agreed to sign with the Bengals just moments after he went unselected in the 2017 NFL draft, which concluded Saturday. He leaves Thursday morning for Cincinnati, where he will take part in the Bengals’ rookie minicamp this weekend.
The news of Stanton’s signing created quite a buzz in the Lakewood community.
“Oh, man, it’s like a proud-papa moment,” said Dan Teeter, who coached Stanton in high school. “I’m very excited for him, it’s something he’s worked extremely hard for. I couldn’t be more proud.
“I know everyone in the Lakewood community is so happy for him. He’s the first guy from the school to make it to that level, so the whole community has its chests puffed out.”
But getting to the NFL as an offensive lineman wasn’t always part of Stanton’s plan.
In high school, his nickname was “Noodle” because he stood 6-foot-6 but weighed just 212 pounds. He was a tight end on offense and an outside linebacker on defense. After graduating from Lakewood in 2012, he headed to Oregon State to be a college tight end.
But the Beavers decided they saw a different future for Stanton prior to the 2014 season. By then, Stanton already had gone through the rigors of bulking up to 250 pounds. Now the coaches were asking him to add another 50.
“When they first told me to switch positions, I was pretty upset,” Stanton recalled. “I liked playing tight end. I weighed 250, 255 pounds and I was comfortable at that weight, I understood my body. But they were like, ‘No, you have to gain 50 more pounds and move positions.’”
But rather than sulk, Stanton decided to get to work. Consuming approximately 7,000 calories a day and lifting weights like crazy, he was able to put on 44 pounds prior to the start of the 2014 season.
Stanton moved into the starting lineup at right tackle midway through the 2014 season, then started every game at the position in 2015. In 2016, he was named a team captain and again started every game, three at right tackle and nine at right guard. He also was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team for the third time.
“It was a pretty crazy experience,” Stanton said of the position switch. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, for sure. It was a character builder and a faith booster because it was so hard. But I believe the position switch made me the player I am today.”
That player is one who caught the eye of NFL scouts. Stanton said he was contacted by about 20 NFL teams in the lead-up to the draft. He had individual workouts with the Bengals, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. He was considered by most draft services as a player who was on the bubble for getting drafted.
Stanton watched the draft at his parents’ home, and though he was disappointed he never heard his name called, he didn’t have much time to sulk. Teams began contacting Stanton at the beginning of the seventh and final round about signing as an undrafted free agent, with Stanton receiving offers from the Bengals, Seahawks, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans and Chicago Bears. It was a mere two minutes after the draft was complete that Stanton accepted the Bengals’ offer.
“It was very emotionally confusing,” Stanton said of his draft experience. “My stress level during the draft while watching it was high, with each pick being called off and not seeing my name after hearing so much about the potential for getting picked. Then all of a sudden the seventh round rolls around all these teams are showing interest.
“But throughout the whole process the Bengals were the team that showed the most interest and were the most straightforward with me,” Stanton added. “Their offer was also the best.”
The Bengals have Stanton penciled in to play left guard at rookie minicamp, but he is prepared to play anywhere along the offensive line. He even spent two months prior to the draft learning to play center, a position he’s never played in a game.
And he’s ready to do his hometown proud.
“The community has been so awesome, it’s a tight-knit group,” Stanton said. “I’ll get calls and texts about how much it means to them and what an inspiration I am. But the people in the community are half the reason why I do this, to make people proud and prove that if you want something in life, if you have enough heart and passion and drive, it’s yours to take. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you love it enough, you can do it.”
Including earning a shot at the NFL.