There seems to be a widespread misconception that each football recruit can and will go on to play at the Division-I level.
In reality, there are many avenues that a student-athlete can take. It can serve football recruits well to keep an open-mind in terms of where they end up. Just because you play at a level below D-I, it doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your football goals.
Today’s entry on The Wire will take a look into four professional football players who had unconventional paths to stardom.
No matter what their stories are, these athletes have all overcome great odds to achieve their dream of playing in the NFL. At Signing Day Sports, we admire their dedication and determination, and we are proud to share their stories with our readers.
The “Cheetah” had a roller coaster football career prior to making a name for himself in Kansas City and now Miami.
In high school, Hill was selected as a USA Today All-American in track and field. However, he ended up going to a community college as a dual-sport athlete – football and track.
After two seasons with Garden City CC, Hill was garnering heavy D-I attention. He received offers from perennial powerhouses such as Alabama, Texas, and Florida State. Hill ended up choosing to attend Oklahoma State but the excitement soon wore off in the wake of domestic violence charges.
After just one season in Stillwater, Hill was dismissed from the team. Luckily, West Alabama, a D-II program, came to his aid in time for his senior season.
Brett Gilliland, the coach of West Alabama at the time, became aware of Hill’s availability. However, he needed convincing to allow Hill to sign on with the program. Gilliland had caught wind of Hill’s run-ins with the law which led to him having many conversations with many of Hill’s previous coaches and mentors. In the end, he decided to provide him the stability he needed for a second chance to prove himself.
His final collegiate season was successful, but nothing spectacular. And while his raw-skills were intriguing to NFL scouts, his domestic violence arrest led to him being projected to go undrafted.
As we now know, the Chiefs ended up taking a chance on him in the fifth round. Regardless of his D-II status in his draft year, and the warranted questions surrounding his character, he was able to work his way onto an NFL squad. For better or worse, it has paid off for him, as he recently signed a $120 million extension.
A native of Reno, Nevada, Brandon Aiyuk was named first-team All-Northern Nevada in his senior year of high school. He was also an honorable mention for All-State.
Aiyuk ended up attending a JUCO in California called Sierra College where he excelled for two years. He was a jack of all trades for the Wolverines, and ended up being named a JUCO All-American in his sophomore season.
This led to him getting opportunities to play at the D-I level from schools such as Alabama, Tennessee, and Kansas. While the newfound notoriety was welcomed, Aiyuk’s offers were contingent on him committing to be used exclusively as a return specialist.
Betting on himself, Aiyuk committed to one of the few schools who had recruited him as a wide receiver – Arizona State. Good choice.
His illustrious two-year stint in the desert ended with him being named first-team All-Pac-12. He received legitimate first-round hype from NFL draft pundits.
He was eventually selected in the first-round by the San Francisco 49ers where he and Deebo Samuel currently make up one of the most effective tandems of shifty, all-purpose WRs.
One of the most recognizable figures in college football history was a walk-on. Baker Mayfield created opportunities for himself in a way that eventually propelled him all the way to being the number one pick in the NFL Draft.
As a three-star recruit out of high school, Mayfield had offers from lesser-known schools such as Florida Atlantic, New Mexico, and North Texas. Similar to Aiyuk, he bet on himself and decided to enroll at Texas Tech and try out for the team. No guarantee he would make it – but he had confidence in his abilities.
Not only did he make the team as a walk-on, he was named the starting QB prior to his true freshman season after an injury to the incumbent starter.
He was named the Big-12 Offensive Player of the Week after his first game, and eventually won the award for Freshman Offensive Player of the Year.
Even with the success he had in Lubbock, Mayfield wanted more. And as a lifelong fan of Oklahoma University, he ended up taking yet another risk by transferring to his dream school.
As a walk-on at OU, he was forced to sit out one year due to in-conference transfer regulations. After his time on the sidelines reached its conclusion, he won the starting quarterback position in 2015.
What followed was one of the most inspiring, intriguing storylines for three consecutive seasons. Watching a two-time walk-on excel at such a high level of college football was mesmerizing for fans.
His personality and underdog status made it easy to see why he received such widespread media coverage and fanfare. Mayfield’s on-field success was unparalleled as he placed fourth, third, and first in Heisman Trophy voting respectively during each of his three years in Norman.
While it may seem weird to think of yourself in similar shoes as one of football’s greatest, it may not be as unfounded as you think.
In high school, Rodgers’ statistics seemed impressive on paper, but he received minimal D-I attention. In fact, the University of Illinois was the only school to reach out, and all they offered was a chance to walk-on with their program.
It is commonplace in today’s football recruiting landscape for recruits to feel like their accomplishments may warrant more attention from collegiate programs. And Rodgers was no different.
Nonetheless, Rodgers decided to continue with his football career at a JUCO called Butte Community College on the off chance that a D-I program might take notice at some point.
Good thing he did because UC Berkeley’s Jeff Tedford was scouting his school for one of Rodgers’ teammates, and what do you know; he found a needle in the haystack.
Rodgers transferred to UC and had an impressive career in which he set numerous passing records at the school. Of course, we know what he’s done once he got his sights set on the NFL.
His story goes to show that scouts can indeed miss the mark. Luckily, he ended up being recruited and given the opportunity to prove himself. Perhaps more importantly, he stayed motivated and put in the necessary work at a JUCO in order to put himself in the position to be found in the first place.