Seniors McCareins, Dekker headed to NFL
For seniors cornerback Jay McCareins and tight end Jon Dekker, life can't get any better. Like all other seniors, they are wrapping up their theses and getting ready to graduate from one of the most prestigious schools in the world. But if that weren't enough, consider this: McCareins recently signed a contract with the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League and Dekker inked one with the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is the stuff dreams are made of.
Had you asked either of these guys a week ago where they would be following the draft, your answer would have been about as good as theirs. The road to the NFL for both of them was filled with twists and turns that left them in suspense until the end.
"I had expected, the way my agent and I talked, to be a sixth or seventh-round pick," McCareins said. "But some teams see something else, and it just didn't work out. I'm not upset or anything like that, it was just a little bit trying mentally at the time."
But as he would come to find out not too much later, going undrafted was a blessing in disguise for the first-team All-American.
"I had my brother there, and he said not to even worry about it," McCareins said. "The sixth or seventh round sometimes is not that great when the team isn't willing to take any rookies on because they have too many people to start with."
To that end, the Cardinals offered McCareins a contract that includes the maximum signing bonus for a rookie free agent and gives him a place to establish himself at the cornerback position.
"You don't want to go into an environment where someone is your age or at your skill level but they've been drafted so they're entitled to an unfair advantage," McCareins said. "I go to camp and I feel like I'm getting a fair chance to start with, and then it's on me to perform, which I like."
McCareins not only likes rising to the occasion, he is also very good at it. He has been setting his goals high from day one and has no intention of lowering his standards.
"I really expect myself to work hard enough to make the final active roster," McCareins said. "My expectations are to be starting by the middle of the season or at least get a chance to get some significant playing time and be a contributor. I'm gonna be ready when my time comes."
Dekker, who is in the same free-agent situation as McCareins, shares similar hopes heading into the league. In order to get to this point, Dekker had exceptional performances in workouts for prospective teams.
"Workouts were intense," Dekker said. "For the Pro Day when the scouts were here, we focused on my 40-yard dash and my agility. I worked a lot with the strength coach here, Jason Gallucci, and he got me very prepared for that day. We're just continuing to workout every day of the week to get ready for camp."
Earning a spot at training camp is key for all rookie free agents, as so much is based on their performance once they get there. It's no surprise, then, that undrafted players spend so much time getting ready for it.
"When I go in there, I want to be in shape and prove that I can play," Dekker said.
Dekker, like McCareins, realized early on that he would need to be prepared for whatever happened in the draft.
"I talked to my agent, we kind of had a feeling that I wasn't going to get drafted," Dekker said. "But he started hearing from teams like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and they were saying they'd like to give a free agent offer. We got to look at Pittsburgh and we thought that was the best fit for me."
Drafted or not, these athletes are in excellent positions to play at a level that most can only dream of.
"We got in a nice situation where I can show I'm competitive and hardworking, and even though I didn't get drafted, I can still show I can play football, prove myself, and hopefully earn a spot on the roster," Dekker said.
Though there are no guarantees, the outlook is positive for both players, whose families and friends have been encouraging from the start.
"Everybody's been really supportive," McCareins said. "Everyone's excited for me to get a chance."
In times of great opportunity such as these, it's not surprising that Dekker has experienced the same kind of camaraderie.
"My parents have been supporting me through the whole thing," Dekker said. "My buddies were in the room with me celebrating, we were all watching the draft together. I have a countless number of people saying 'We want you make it.' There's not a better feeling inside that a person can get than to hear that."
In a sense, McCareins and Dekker are part of something bigger than themselves.
"I feel like I'm bringing the Princeton football team with me," McCareins said. "We've been through a lot. It's easy to lose of confidence, but everybody's helped facilitate my excitement."
Dekker feels the same kind of gratitude.
"It's amazing to see how happy people are for you, and that just makes me want to go out and work even harder," he said. "I feel like I'm not only playing for myself, but playing for everyone who supports me and inspires me to do what I do. It's been a wild ride, and I'm just excited to get started on this new chapter of my life."
Though Dekker and McCareins are the first two Tigers to sign contracts with NFL teams, three more seniors are looking for a similar fortune. Linebacker Justin Stull and offensive linemen Ben Brielmaier and Paul Lyons will soon be attending NFL mini-camps, though the three are presently without contracts.
Stull will be reporting to mini-camp for the Washington Redskins this weekend, while Lyons will head to the Cincinnati Bengal's mini-camp and Brielmaier will look to catch on with the Cleveland Browns at their mini-camp.
Last year, four former Tigers attend NFL mini-camps in May, with linebacker Zak Keasey '05 eventually making the roster of the Washington Redskins.
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