By Coach Joseph Potts, NSCA-CSCS, NASM-CES
Each year nearly 3500 collegiate athletes form a pool of draft-eligible candidates for NFL teams to choose from in their yearly draft selection process, a veritable untapped gold mine of talent ripe for the plucking. The other side to that coin is that there are approximately 3250 of those athletes who won’t hear their name called on draft day. For those who appreciate numbers, that means that nearly 93% of guys who were skilled and talented enough to even be considered NFL prospects will ultimately not hear their name called. That leaves a lot of really good football players on the outside looking in. To really put that number in perspective take into account that there are approximately 2000 (active roster and practice squad) jobs available in the NFL and every single year 3000+ men seek to fill those spots.
Cassius Sendish was an honorable mention All Big-XII safety at the University of Kansas, his position coach in college was Dave Campo, a veteran of 22 years as a coach at the NFL level, nearly all of them on the defensive side of the ball save for a three-year stint as Head Coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Speaking to him for this article he had this to say about Sendish, “He reminds me of Brock Marion (a former 7th round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 1993 who would go on to become a three time Pro Bowl player in his career), a combination of a cornerback and a safety. His combination of speed and smarts make him a little bit unique.”
That speed was on display at the University of Kansas NFL Pro Day in late March, the times on the stopwatches in the scouts hands were varied but the consensus was most had him timed between 4.44 and 4.50 in the forty yard dash. Combined with his 37-inch vertical leap and 11.07 second time in the sixty-yard shuttle drill, any questions regarding his athletic ability were answered that day.
Sendish, who played in the Medal of Honor Bowl all-star game in early January, says that scouts there consistently asked him what he expected to run the forty yard dash in. Many told him they expected him to run a time in the low-4.7 to high-4.6 range so for him to check off that box at his pro day helped to improve his stock.
During the weeks between his pro day performance and draft day his name started popping up in the occasional mock draft (one such mock, posted by a writer for Bleacher Report, had him being taken in the 5th round by the Miami Dolphins) and the Baltimore Ravens (who were in attendance at his Pro Day performance) invited him to a workout at their team facility.
As the NFL Draft crept closer multiple teams began calling to verify his contact information. “With eight or nine teams calling, at that point I knew I’d get an opportunity. There was no guarantee I’d get drafted but I knew I’d get a chance.”
Ultimately all seven rounds of the draft came and went without Cassius hearing his name called, however soon after the draft ended several teams called his agent with offers. A couple of teams offered free-agent contracts but those teams had deep backfields already, the Cleveland Browns offered a mini-camp tryout which included a personal call from a defensive backfield coach who explained that the team liked his ability to play both free and strong safety positions. Feeling that was his best chance to make an active roster he accepted their invitation and soon found himself flying to Cleveland for a 3-day rookie mini-camp.
At the end of the three days the Cleveland front office informed him they felt he had performed “solid but not spectacularly” and that he would not be brought back for off-season team activities (OTAs). Somewhat surprised but understanding it is a business decision he thanked the Browns for the opportunity and reset his sights back on finding an opportunity in pro football. Unfortunately for Cassius the NFL teams who had been interested in his services after the draft had filled their open slots with other players once he had accepted the Browns offer.
So once again, like many other prospects each year, back on the outside looking in Sendish sticks to a rigid program of weight lifting, speed-training, and yoga to keep his body ready for when an opportunity presents itself. One NFC team has told his agent he is the first name on their list should one of their current defensive backs go down with an injury. He has also heard from several teams in the Canadian Football League which has fed the NFL a slew of great players.
The league is full of underdog stories, players who kept toiling, beat the odds and found success. Names such as Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, “Rocket” Ismial, Joe Horn, Cameron Wake and Brandon Browner all began their careers in the CFL before finding their way to the NFL. While Kurt Warner is the poster-child for underdogs who kept the dream alive in the Arena Football League other players such as Mike Furrey, Oronde Gadsden, and Rashied Davis all had respectable NFL careers after being indoor football standouts.
The reality of pro football is that many very good players and athletes will not play a down in an NFL uniform, however, for those with the right mindset and work ethic, perseverance can pay off.
Follow Coach Potts on Twitter: @TopSpeedLLC