An NFL Dream Hanging On Line
After Cut, Ex-Terp Waits for 2nd Shot
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Every year on their birthdays, Dane Randolph and his mother, Angela, pick a goal they hope to accomplish in the ensuing months. It is a kind of New Year's resolution with the twist that unlike most New Year's resolutions, these promises are actually kept.
And so on Sept. 4, 2008, right around the start of his senior football season at the University of Maryland, Randolph made his new birthday vow: to make the roster of an NFL team. This was a somewhat unlikely proposition, given his status as a fringe professional prospect. But nonetheless it became one he met after surviving a May tryout with the Green Bay Packers and lingering on the team's roster through training camp.
Right up until 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 4, 2009, his 23rd birthday, when the phone rang in his Green Bay hotel room. Reggie McKenzie, the team's director of football operations, was on the line. Could Dane please drop by his office?
And that's when he knew.
He was being cut.
This is the way most dreams die in the NFL, on cutdown day a week before the season, when phones ring and harsh knocks come on hotel or dormitory room doors summoning doomed players to a meeting in which their fates are revealed. Then, even before they realize that the end of their careers has likely arrived, they are headed home, where they soon have to contemplate a real job for the first time in their lives.
Last Tuesday afternoon, Randolph did not seem ready to concede his football hopes as he sat in the Comcast Center office of Natasha Criss, his academic counselor at Maryland. It wasn't a meeting to discuss his new career goals. Criss wasn't even in the room, instead loaning it to Randolph so he could have a quiet place to finish an interview about the whirlwind of his football life the past six months.
"I still want to play in the NFL," he said.
But the two cellphones that sat on the desk before him had not chirped with an opportunity in 18 days. This is usually a sign that the NFL isn't interested. His agent, Josh Stevens, had been calling teams, trying to arrange tryouts. A couple said they might be interested if there were injuries. They'd let him know.
In other words, he had nothing.
Randolph tried to keep himself busy after driving back from Green Bay the day after his release. He returned to his mother's townhouse in Owings Mills, Md., and spent the first couple of days talking to her. They made a new birthday goal: This time he would not only make an NFL roster, he would stay on it.
He lifted weights and ran through a list of exercises the Packers had given him back in the spring. He ran. He tried to do things that would keep him in shape. Last weekend, Dean Muhtadi, a former Maryland defensive lineman, came over. Muhtadi had been signed out of the same tryout camp in the spring as Randolph and had also been cut at the same time. Like Randolph, he was hoping for any opportunity. They got helmets and met another former Maryland teammate, Alex Schultz, to work out on a private school field in Baltimore. There really wasn't much for them to do but to line up in their stances and crash into each other. Yet even that felt good.