NFL Holds First-Ever Scouting Combine For Veteran Players
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
When off-season workouts for the NFL begin in a few weeks, there will be three new faces on the field. They were signed after competing in a recent scouting event in Tempe, Ariz. This wasn't a showcase for college players. This was for veterans of the NFL hoping for another chance. NPR's Becky Sullivan caught up with them between drills at the Arizona Cardinals practice field.
BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: It's 90 degrees outside. It's bright as can be. And Shahid Paulhill has been awake for 31 hours straight.
SULLIVAN: He was supposed to get here the day before, but his flight from Los Angeles fell through.
SHAHID PAULHILL: I told myself I had to make a decision to turn my back or just go chase what I want. So I scraped up every dollar I got, got me a rental car and I got myself down here.
SULLIVAN: He's a defensive linemen for a semi-pro team right now, but what he wants is to play in the NFL. Everyone here wants that. Two-thousand guys applied to participate in this veteran combine. Only 107 made the cut. And at this level, football is not glamorous. Guys had to pay a $400 application fee and pay their way here for this one shot, 40-minute workout in front of all 32 teams.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And - go.
(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)
SULLIVAN: On the bright green practice field, players ran just a few simple exercises - a 40-yard dash, agility drills, pass routes. And I should say here that veteran is a little loosely defined. Most guys here have only played in training camp or on a practice squad. Takashi Kurihara hasn't even done that. He's just had a few try-outs.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Number 89 - Takashi Kurihara.
SULLIVAN: He flew here this week from Japan, where he's wide receiver in the best Japanese pro-football league.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Good catch, good catch. All right.
SULLIVAN: Kurihara would be a rarity in the NFL. Less than one percent of players are Asian and almost all of those are Pacific Islander.
TAKASHI KURIHARA: (Through interpreter) At first, the American players would look at me like, who the hell is this guy? But now all the players congratulate me when I play well.
SULLIVAN: The combine had some familiar faces, too. A few guys here have started games in the NFL. One was quarterback Brady Quinn, who's taking on many a contract in his eight-year NFL career, the most recent with Fox Sports TV.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX SPORTS TV")
BRADY QUINN: Hi, I'm Brady Quinn, former Notre Dame quarterback here.
SULLIVAN: He likes doing TV, he says, but it can't touch the lure of football.
QUINN: To be that close to it and be around it but not be a part of it, in the sense of playing, it's one of the toughest things you have to go through.
SULLIVAN: For Quinn, it's hard to leave football behind.
QUINN: Had I not taken this opportunity to do this, I'd look back a year, two years, three years, you know - if I wasn't playing - and regret it.
SULLIVAN: Fear of regret was on a lot of minds here. These guys dropped all kinds of things to be here. I talked to one running back who's an English teacher and had to be back at school the next day. And another player was on vacation with his fiancee when he found out about the combine, and immediately flew home to train.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Now up, 1-2-1, Jason Foster.
SULLIVAN: Jason Foster was a standout offensive lineman in college and the Indianapolis Colts came calling just after the end of the 2012 draft. He bounced around from team to team. He was cut just before the start of the season last year. Since then, he's been washing dishes, stocking shelves and training hours a day in his spare time for that one last chance.
JASON FOSTER: I gave myself a deadline. I gave 'til the end of April. And if I wasn't signed by that deadline, then it's time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life.
SULLIVAN: Foster had applied to a few non-football jobs before he heard about this combine. He's already heard back from a firm on Wall Street.
FOSTER: They understood my situation - just please let us know when you can about a job interview. And I'm like, definitely, yeah. You'll be the first to know. (Laughter).
SULLIVAN: The firm is hoping to sign Foster, but Foster is hoping for the NFL. And it could happen. Three players so far have landed with teams in time for the first NFL off-season workouts, to start up in a few weeks. Becky Sullivan, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.