Craig: Chasing their NFL dreams sure isn't easy

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2014 - 6:22 PM
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Wide receiver Adam Thielen

Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ, Star Tribune

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Did you know there are 15 NFL regional combines that pay no expenses and actually charge each participant $295 to enter?

“I didn’t,” said former Gophers defensive tackle Roland Johnson. “But my brother did some research. I’ve been an underdog my whole life, so he went online and looked up how to make the NFL. And that’s what popped up.”

Johnson advanced from the Miami regional combine to the super regional in Detroit to a three-day tryout at the Vikings’ rookie minicamp this week. Joining him on the same path as tryout invitees were Northern (S.D.) State offensive lineman Jon Caspers, Sul Ross (Texas) State cornerback Randell Carroll and Minnesota Duluth safety Jason Carlson. Villanova defensive end and fellow regional and super regional survivor Rakim Cox was signed as a rookie free agent earlier.

“It’s not cheap to pay your own way to get this far,” Johnson said. “My mom [Rochella] and my brothers [Ryan and Marvin] paid for me. Thank God for moms and brothers.”

Cox’s agent, Christina Phillips, footed his bills.

“She knows I should have been drafted,” Cox said. “It got to the seventh round, and no team would pull the plug. It was a slap in the face. But I use it as fire on my wood.”

Regional combines have been around for years as a stage for overlooked prospects. But only in the past four years has the NFL stepped in to organize them and establish the ensuing step, an invitation-only super regional combine, sans entry fee.

A year ago, 29 super regional participants made NFL rosters, including Vikings practice squad players Adam Thielen and Bradley Randle. Ten made an opening-day 53-man roster, while six saw game action.

“The super regional is pretty competitive top to bottom,” Carroll said. “But my regional combine in Baltimore? This one dude was about 38 years old. He came in talking trash, but he didn’t make it past warmups. He was throwing up all over the place.”

Randle said he saw something similar in Los Angeles.

“There was a guy who was 5-11 and probably 270 pounds,” the former Viking said. “He had a big old gut and he’s about 30. Said he was a fullback. Maybe in middle school.”

NFL scouts don’t attend regional combines. Pro scouts Ryan Monnens, Scott Kuhn and Jeff Robinson represent the Vikings at the super regional.

“You’re probably not going to see a complete player,” Monnens said. “What you’re looking for is that one redeeming trait. It’s also good for the small-school guys who don’t have verified height, weight and speed. Or they have very little quality game tape.”

Speaking of which, Carroll assumed modern game tape wouldn’t be an issue when he transferred from New Mexico State to Division III Sul Ross State in Alpine, Texas.

“But our film guy was pretty bad,” he said. “Sometimes, I wasn’t even in the shot. And he didn’t have a tripod, so sometimes you saw more of the dirt in front of him than you did me.”

A year ago, Thielen paid about $3,000 to train for and attend the regional combine in Chicago and the super regional.

“I had to use my student loan money,” said Thielen, a Detroit Lakes, Minn., native and former Minnesota State Mankato receiver. “But it was worth it.”

Thielen participated in last year’s rookie minicamp as a tryout invitee. He was signed and spent the entire season on the practice squad, which pays a minimum of $6,000 a week, or $102,000 for the season. He’s still fighting for an active roster spot that would pay him $420,000.

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New Orleans 28 FINAL
Carolina 10
Tampa Bay 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Arizona 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Philadelphia 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Houston
NY Jets 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Jacksonville 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
San Diego 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Washington 11/2/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
St. Louis 11/2/14 3:05 PM
San Francisco
Denver 11/2/14 3:25 PM
New England
Oakland 11/2/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Baltimore 11/2/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Indianapolis 11/3/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 105 FINAL
Orlando 98
Detroit 91 FINAL
Minnesota 97
New York 95 FINAL
Cleveland 90
Utah 102 FINAL
Dallas 120
Oklahoma City 90 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Buffalo 2
Winnipeg 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Los Angeles 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
Chicago 5 FINAL(SO)
Ottawa 4
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Arizona 1 FINAL
Florida 2
San Jose 3 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 4
Anaheim 0 FINAL
St. Louis 2
NY Islanders 0 FINAL
Colorado 5
Montreal 2 FINAL(OT)
Vancouver 3
(2) Florida State 42 FINAL
Louisville 31
Troy 10 FINAL
Ga Southern 42
Cincinnati 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 7:02 PM
Memphis
Air Force 11/1/14 10:30 AM
Army
ULM 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Texas A&M
(19) Oklahoma 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Northwestern 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
(24) Duke 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Maryland 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Wisconsin 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
Rice 11/1/14 11:00 AM
FIU
(21) East Carolina 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Temple
UCF 11/1/14 11:00 AM
Connecticut
Boston College 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
North Carolina 11/1/14 11:30 AM
Miami-Florida
Washington 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Central Mich 11/1/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Western Mich 11/1/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Western Ky 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
NC State 11/1/14 2:00 PM
Syracuse
Virginia 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Purdue 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(17) Nebraska
BYU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(20) West Virginia
Indiana 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 11/1/14 2:30 PM
(9) Georgia
Georgia State 11/1/14 2:30 PM
Appalachian St
Kentucky 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Kansas 11/1/14 3:00 PM
(12) Baylor
Texas State 11/1/14 3:00 PM
New Mexico St
Houston 11/1/14 3:00 PM
So Florida
USC 11/1/14 3:30 PM
Washington St
Arkansas State 11/1/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
South Alabama 11/1/14 4:00 PM
Louisiana
New Mexico 11/1/14 4:30 PM
UNLV
UAB 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
(4) Auburn 11/1/14 6:00 PM
(7) Ole Miss
Old Dominion 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Colorado State 11/1/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St
Arkansas 11/1/14 6:15 PM
(1) Miss State
Stanford 11/1/14 6:30 PM
(5) Oregon
Tennessee 11/1/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina
Texas 11/1/14 6:30 PM
Texas Tech
Southern Miss 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
(6) Notre Dame 11/1/14 7:00 PM
Navy
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Illinois 11/1/14 7:00 PM
(13) Ohio State
(14) Arizona 11/1/14 9:30 PM
(25) UCLA
California 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
San Diego St 11/1/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Wyoming 11/1/14 9:45 PM
Fresno State
(18) Utah 11/1/14 10:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Utah State 11/1/14 10:00 PM
Hawaii
Bowling Green 11/4/14 7:00 PM
Akron
Toledo 11/4/14 7:00 PM
Kent State
Buffalo 11/5/14 7:00 PM
Ohio U
Northern Ill 11/5/14 7:00 PM
Ball State
(22) Clemson 11/6/14 6:30 PM
Wake Forest
Sporting Kansas City 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 2
Hamilton 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Ottawa 11/7/14 6:00 PM
Toronto
Calgary 11/7/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Montreal 11/8/14 3:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 11/8/14 6:00 PM
Saskatchewan

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