By Brian Cullen
For most NFLers, the path is set: enter college at 17 or 18, play a few years of college ball, then, if you’re lucky, get drafted into the pros with a few years of high-level experience. BUT, there are some players who took an alternate route. Today, we’re looking at five athletes who had unconventional pre-NFL careers. Quick spoiler alert: before you lace up your cleats and start dreaming of lining up next to Drew Brees, remember that these guys were all still crazy athletic beforehand, and aren’t currently sucking down Mountain Dew and Doritos Locos Tacos.
To be fair, Brandon Weeden’s collegiate football career – although short – was pretty remarkable. He set oodles of records for Oklahoma State and even won the Fiesta Bowl. But before he laced up for OSU, he was a pitcher in the farm system for the Yankees, Dodgers and Royals. He ended his career playing single-A ball, where he eventually quit, beleaguered by injuries and a high ERA. So, he went to college at 26, won a Fiesta Bowl and then – completing the unlikely success story – became a first round NFL draft pick… as a member of the Cleveland Browns. AWWW BOO.
Quick – who’s the best tight end ever? Some of you probably said Tony Gonzalez, but Antonio Gates has to at least enter the conversation. That’s why it’s so funny that Gates never played a down of college football. Sure, Gates was interested in it; he originally attended MSU with designs on playing football for Nick Saban and basketball for Tom Izzo. But when Saban wanted him to exclusively play football, Gates left.
Gates had a very productive career at Kent State as a power forward, but due to his relative shortness (6’4” being “basketball” short, not “real life” short), scouts thought his NBA chances were slim. So, he worked out for NFL teams. The Chargers scooped him up immediately, and in the course of one season, Gates worked his way up to the starting position (rumor has it, he trained in route running by playing Madden). Not bad for a guy without any college football experience.
When Redskins (then Eagles) punter Sav Rocca joined the league in 2007, he became the oldest rookie in league history at the age of 33. Y’see, before joining the NFL, Rocca was a pretty successful Aussie Rules Football player. How successful? WELL. In 1995, he was Collingwood Best and Fairest, he was Collingwood’s leading goal kicker 1993-1999, North Melbourne’s leading goal kicker 2001-2002 and 2004, and he made the AFL/VFL Italian Team of the Century. Now, to be clear, I have no idea what any of this means, but I think it’s the equivalent of LeBron James winning five championships then becoming a solid role player on a Ukrainian rugby team. (Also, please note I don’t know if they play rugby in the Ukraine.)
Otis Sistrunk never played college football. This is, in part, because he never went to college. After leaving high school, Sistrunk entered the Marines, and then took a job at a meatpacking plant. From there, he played a few years of semi-pro football before being seen by scouts for the Oakland Raiders. As an interesting side note, during one football game, his collegiate experience was listed as “U.S. Mars” (short for United States Marines). Instead, some believed he went to the University of Mars – a joke which has stuck with Sistrunk to this day. Interestingly, he was also a tag-team wrestling champion.
You knew this would be on the list. Prior to his signing with the Rams, Kurt Warner played for the Arena Football League. Before then, he bagged groceries for a Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for $5.50 an hour. Considering that he eventually had a handful of contracts worth more than $10 million in his career, he ended up doing alright for himself.
How’d we do? Did we miss anyone? Hit us up in the comments section and let us know!