By Anthony Armstrong
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I made my own path through the trees and mud, and that has made all the difference. That’s my rendition of Robert Frost’s classic poem, The Road Not Taken, and it’s the best way to describe my journey to the NFL.
Nothing about my path to the league was normal, and it was more like a storyline from a movie. I’ll save you most of the details, but my first city league squad was the Cowboys, I wore 22 and was a killer running toss right. Just a skinny kid with some speed.
Fast forward to my senior season at West Texas A&M, with about one month left in the season, just before halftime against Abilene Christian, I fractured my wrist and ruptured my scapholunate. I finished the rest of the season wearing this medieval splint that kept my hand in the best position to catch a pass. After the season ended, I had surgery to fuse the bones and wore a cast with pins in place for a few months.
The 2005 draft came and went without my name being called, but soon after, I was invited to the Atlanta Falcons’ Rookie Minicamp. Having just gotten out of my cast and barely rehabbed, I failed the physical and got sent right back to Canyon, TX just in time to make my athletic banquet….the only problem is that no one knew I was back. I remember hearing Coach Lee Hays bragging on Derek Maupin and myself for being at NFL minicamps. I was there, cutting my chicken breast.
That summer was rough. I feel like I was going through a bit of depression. Miller Genuine Draft was my drink of choice, combined with endless rounds of Madden in between my summer courses. That continued until I was invited to run some flag football in Vegas. Once I got out there, I knew I had to get back on the field. I turned down an insurance job in Ft. Worth for a chance to chase this dream.
First stop Odessa, TX. The Roughnecks were a part of the Intense Football League. Since the hockey team was still in the playoffs, we literally had practice in the parking lot in front of the Ector County Coliseum. Footballs in the street, horns honking. It was a shit show. Hell, one day this wild ass linebacker caused a pileup that resulted in me having a piece of gravel in my hand for a couple days.
We won the ship that year, but mid-way through the season, two other teammates and I hit the highway to Arlington, TX to catch an open workout for this reality TV show to make an Arena 2 team. That was the day I ran my first 4.2 40-yd dash. I got into the blocks and ran the first one like I normally do. Deep breath, stare down the course and visualize the outcome.
Will McClay and Terry Gray of the Dallas Desperados and Dallas Cowboys had this look on their face like “Who TF is this kid?” Another 4.2 and I had business cards from just about every coach in the building.
That show never happened and was actually cancelled after the first practice. Jay Gruden gave me his last $20 to help me get back home. I had signed on with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgs of the Arena 2 League and just one week before camp started, the Desperados invited me in. I made their version of the practice squad and eventually scored my first TD against my childhood idol, Deion Sanders’ Austin Wranglers.
After two seasons with the ‘Rados, I got the call from the Miami Dolphins. I’ll save that story for another post about the actual travel to Ft. Lauderdale.
So, Will McClay was the head coach of the Desperados but also a scout for the Cowboys. He would go back into the meetings and stand on the table for his guys. Coincidentally, in 2008, Bill Parcells, Tony Sparano, Brian Gaine and Jeff Ireland all left Dallas for South Beach, and obviously some players and prospects.
All of that time spent in the lower leagues was priceless in my development. Sure, I still had a shit ton to learn, but I’m certain that if I got into the league at 22 years old, I would’ve been out by 25 for sure. I was lucky to be around great pros like Will Pettis, Clint Doelzel, Marcus Nash, Andre Thurman, Derrin Graham, Cee Weatherington, Jahdai Pickett, Jeff Chase, Jermaine Johnson, Duke Pettijohn, and the list goes on. Those guys had information and insight from where I wanted to go because they had been there. They had the roadmap.
My path the league sure as hell wasn’t sexy, but she has the best personality and can hold a conversation.
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