So how did a 5-7, 179-pound, 34-year-old St. Paul man without a single game of organized football experience get accepted to last month’s NFL regional combine in Seattle?
By not taking no for an answer.
Elliott Vang, one of nine children of Hmong immigrants from Laos, grew up playing soccer in St. Paul. He graduated from Highland Park High School, where he played soccer only, and Concordia (St. Paul), where he spent one season with the scout team.
Married and a father of two, Vang works as a medical interpreter for area hospitals and has been the defensive coordinator at Highland Park the past seven seasons. He spoke with Star Tribune NFL reporter Mark Craig this week about his experience in Seattle:
Q No offense, but how in the world did you talk the NFL into letting you try out?
A [Laughing] I applied initially and they rejected me. They said I didn’t have the background or the experience to compete. … Five years ago, I never would have kept asking. But I figured it doesn’t hurt to ask again. So I pushed back and told the guy who runs the regional combine, “The reason you have these regional combines is to get that kid from a small college or that person who doesn’t get that typical look or opportunity to make it to the NFL.” They replied and said, “OK, you’re good to go.”
Q So what year did you kick for Concordia?
A Actually, I wasn’t a kicker. I was a wide receiver. I didn’t play in any of the games. I have worked with the kickers at Highland Park for seven years.
Q The participants attempted three kickoffs, field goals from the 35-, 40-, 45- and 50-yard lines. They got two attempts from the 55 and, if they were successful on both of those, they were allowed to attempt a 60-yarder. So how’d you do?
A I pulled my quad on my right [kicking] leg on the first kickoff. I had injured it a couple weeks before and rested it for a week, but I reinjured it. I got my first kickoff to the 10-yard line, but the other two only made it to the 20. And I only made my 35-yard field goal attempt.
Q At least you showed the league you don’t mind playing hurt, eh?
A I figured I already paid the $300 to enter and the [travel] costs. I might as well experience it.
Q In 2013, 50 regional combine participants were signed to NFL rosters, including Vikings practice squad players Bradley Randle and Adam Thielen. Thirty of those 50 were on active rosters, and six of them actually played on opening day, including Packers free safety Chris Banjo. What kind of reaction did you get from your fellow participants?