Updated: April 17, 2012 at 12:00 am
Going to a service academy doesn’t mean an athlete forgets a lifelong dream to play in the National Football League.
Air Force receiver Jonathan Warzeka and safety Jon Davis are among the Falcons this year who are hoping to beat the odds and get a shot at the pros.
“Any kid that grew up being a football player has aspirations of being in the NFL,” Warzeka said. “I’m hoping a team gives me a chance to come to a minicamp and showcase my skills.”
The NFL draft is next week, and unless there is a major surprise, no Air Force players will be taken. No Falcons player has been selected in the draft since Bryce Fisher in 1999. The cadets have a mandatory service commitment, though if they have a pro contract, they can serve two years and turn the final three years into six years of reserve duty. Still, teams don’t want to invest a pick in a player who won’t play for them for two years. Air Force’s players, like Warzeka and Davis, generally hope to sign as free agents after the draft.
While that can be frustrating for the elite players who have passed through Air Force’s program, undrafted but talented athletes like Carson Bird, Reggie Rembert, Chad Hall and Ben Garland, Warzeka feels he’s in a good situation.
“Guys are going to the draft, and this is what they’ve been training for, a career in the NFL – fortunately for us, if the NFL doesn’t work out, we have a career lined up for us,” Warzeka said. “That’s pretty neat.”
Still, Warzeka and Davis both said they have scrolled the list of players at their position who will likely be expected to go in the draft, and found some they think they compare favorably to, to say the least. And that part of the process can be trying.
“I look at some of those guys who will be drafted, and I feel like I play at the same tempo or even better tempo, and make more plays than them,” Davis said. “But I think NFL teams know that and see it.”
Hall and Garland provided a path for players like Warzeka and Davis to emulate. Hall signed with the Philadelphia Eagles two years after graduation, and has played 15 games with the Eagles over the past two years, with a pair of touchdowns. Garland signed a free-agent deal with the Denver Broncos after the draft two years ago. He has been on the reserve-military list the past two seasons, but has the option of going to work with the Broncos this year and trying to win a spot on the roster.
Warzeka, in particular, took note when Hall made the Eagles. Warzeka is a similar player – quick, versatile, can contribute in the return game – so he has a player he can model his aspirations after.
Davis is a good athlete and was one of Air Force’s best all-around players. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said last year that he thought Wyatt Middleton and Davis were the two best academy safeties he had seen in his 14 seasons with the Midshipmen.
Air Force’s players worked out during their pro day last month, and will wait after the draft to see if anyone gives them an opportunity. That foot in the door is all they want.
“I just need one team to like me,” Davis said. “I just need to get out on the field and show them what I can do. When that happens, I know they’ll like me.”
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