Sports Editor Dustin Brown had the chance to sit down with former Virginia University of Lynchburg defensive back Corey Felton Jr. this week and discuss what life is like for an NFL UDFA. It’s a glimpse into this side of professional sports that proves that not everyone is allowed to fulfill their dreams of playing at the professional level.
For a small percentage of college athletes, the dream of playing for a professional sports team becomes a reality. But, the underlying and somewhat heartbreaking reality is that most of these college athletes will have to find some other form of employment. With the NFL offseason in full swing and the draft having already concluded, there are still several former college football players that find themselves designated as an NFL undrafted free agent (UDFA).
But, as I learned in my interview with Corey Felton Jr., not all of these players are willing to take no for an answer and watch their childhood dreams wither and die before their eyes.
DB: Leading up to the draft, what steps did you take to prepare yourself for the draft?
I know you went to the NFL Regional Combine, but what mentality and approach did you take?
CJ: I wouldn’t say that I leaped away from everyone, but I just got into this mindset where I stayed focused. I’ve been working out everyday, eating healthy and stretching to prevent the little hamstring problem that I had in the past. I’ve been putting in time in the weight room to get stronger and do a lot of speed and agility work, like running hills; doing all those things to get better everyday.
DB: How have you dealt with criticism from NFL scouts up to this point?
CJ: I had talked to a Washington Redskins scout a while back and he told me that I needed more film. It’s hard when coaches are consistently changing who they want to start, and it’s out of your control.
They also say “You’re only 5 feet 8 inches tall; you might have a problem going up against bigger receivers.” I will always tell them, to be honest, I have heart and will go up against anyone. I work hard enough and have confidence in myself to go against anyone.
Most scouts look at you from coming from a small school and look over you. I pretty much did everything myself leading up to the draft so that people could know who I am.
DB: Are you a guy that would stand outside in front of a stadium with a sign like that gentleman did in New England a couple of weeks ago?
CJ: I’m more of a guy that likes to stay focused and grind; standing in front of a stadium isn’t me. I just keep grinding, try to stay positive and be a role model. I know that someone out there is watching, so you have to put in work everyday.
DB: I know that speed is your biggest asset and reading some of the other interviews with you they discuss your nickname “Jet Rabbit,” and getting that name by chasing rabbits around. With the speed you’ve gained, how do you think that translates to the NFL with size being the biggest issue?
CJ: You know, I come in a small statue at 5-8 1/2, and feel like I have the upper hand because I’m fast and quick. You go against a receiver that isn’t fast and I can use that speed to my advantage. I might get my hips flipped and out of place, but I can use that speed to recover quickly.
I can also chase guys down in the open field and my speed is an advantage at times.
DB: With the chasing rabbits story, what else do you feel that helped you with as a football player, besides speed?
CJ: Well, I’ve been to a couple of colleges and other places. Guys ask me where I’m from and I tell them Pohokee, which is off the shore of Lake Okeechobee, and the area is also known as “Muck City.”
We chase rabbits in the harvest season and use it as a technique because rabbits are swift; they cut in and out and run with a straight forward pace. Chasing rabbits helped me with a lot, as far as chasing my opponent down and dealing with running backs cuts. If you can catch a rabbit, you can have a really good season.
DB: Having seen a documentary on chasing rabbits, it’s an interesting concept that people might overlook. Being able to catch an animal that is made to escape is no small feat and is sure to help in more ways than speed and agility, but also helps you predict your opponents movements in a game.
I give you props for being able to catch those animals!
CJ: It’s hard to catch a rabbit, it really is.
DB: It probably helps you deal with a tall receiver, then.
CJ: Haha, it really does.
DB: Have you had any interest from any teams since the NFL Draft?
CJ: There was a couple of CFL teams (Roughriders and Blue Bombers), but I don’t have a passport at the moment and the CFL draft has passed and they aren’t currently taking any American players.
I’ve had a couple of scouts hit me up about the German football league, and the World Development Football league is coming up on July 10, so I’ll be playing in that.
I have to play somewhere.
DB: Are you willing to take a route to the NFL similar to that of Kurt Warner? Would the Arena Football League further NFL interest in you.
CJ: It wouldn’t be a problem to play Arena football, and I know a few guys that play in the league. You get opportunities after the season and you might get offers for a tryout with an NFL team.
I just love football, you know, so I’ll play anywhere, it doesn’t matter.
DB: How different has your approach been now compared to before the draft and in college?
CJ: Right now I just use motivation. There isn’t anyone in your ear yelling at you to get up at 5:30 and start working out. I wake up everyday with a chip on my shoulder because I’ve been looked over all the time. I keep pushing through it and use it as motivation.
DB: Along those lines, what would you say to sell yourself to a team — in any league — and counter the criticism that you’ve faced?
CJ: I would tell them that I’m humble, coachable and a team player. I do all the things that coach asks me to do and am willing to play wherever the coach wants me to play. I can play wideout, cornerback, kickoff return, punt return and special teams.
DB: What is the toughest part for you about being overlooked and being an undrafted free agent in the NFL?
CJ: The hardest part is getting the look. Coming from a small school, not many people know where you’re from. You’ve seen me on Twitter, just trying to promote myself and get myself out there and show that I have speed.
Anyone can looked over, but coaches and scouts will look for you, you just gotta keep working hard.
DB: What words of advice do you have for future NFL UDFAs?
CJ: I would tell them that you have to really work hard and nothing is given to you. You can be the best player, but if you aren’t disciplined and have a good attitude then you become replaceable.
Work at your craft and be self-motivated. If someone criticizes you, keep pushing. If you want to be great, you have to go through tough times and grind it out.
The biggest thing is to keep working and that is the main thing.
Like many other players trying to make it into the NFL, Felton knows that his hard work will eventually pay off. Until that day comes, he will keep grinding because that is all he knows how to do.