By Earl Bennett
My dreams of being a professional football player became true when the Chicago Bears selected me in the 3rd round. I was eager to get to work and do the preparation needed to be the best receiver in franchise history. My plans of having an immediate impact were halted during the first season.
Walking through Halas Hall and seeing all of the history was fascinating and inspiring. Every day at practice was a challenge as I shifted through multiple positions. Although I felt I was ready, the coaching staff, especially Pep Hamilton, thought otherwise.
Pep was the quarterback coach and got on to me every day. The one thing I always heard him utter was “a third round redshirt” as he would shake his head. The level of frustration and disgust was evident on his face. I endured the entire season of being “redshirted” even though Rex and other players expressed their sentiments that I should be playing. Pep’s tune changed once Jay was traded to the Bears.
After a rookie season of not participating on game days, it all changed when Jay arrived on the scene. Pep’s view towards me was suddenly altered. I went from “redshirt Earl” to “we can’t wait to get you involved in the offense this year Earl.” There’s no doubt that the connection Jay and I had changed Pep’s outlook on me as a player. The last thing a coach wants is a franchise quarterback who doesn’t like him because of his friend.
Statistically, I had a career high in reception and yards after “redshirting” that first year. Though the offensive coaching staff was eventually fired, I always thought about the “redshirt” phrase as a professional player. Sometimes, not only do the coaches get it wrong, but they also can be jerks about it.
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