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Making the team: Enduring the journey to relevancy
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Bill Belichick said it last week. "Part of training camp is to test a players' endurance." Putting it another way, everybody has to get down and dirty.
Physically and mentally, there's little doubt "getting down and dirty" is a big part of camp life, and a big part of making a roster. And for the guys on the bottom third of the Patriots' 90-man camp roster, you can add to that struggle the daily pressure of simply trying to earn a job.
Beyond the starters…beyond the stars and the guys most fans have their eyes focused upon…are the players who help define what makes the NFL successful. The smaller struggles to succeed, the little guys potentially rewarded with a position, a paycheck and a bigger stage, then set loose to entertain and perform for the masses. For some of these guys, they merely hope to get the chance to hang on for someone, somewhere, and live the dream of being a professional athlete a bit longer.
There are players here where the journey has already been successful…but now, they must engage once again. What do they do for an encore? Second year fullback James Develin, who played on the defensive line at Brown just a few short years ago, is hoping now to carve a similar niche for himself as he did last season. Having gone through the rookie-year struggles of earning a place on the Patriots' roster – especially coming from the relative obscurity of the Ivy League – it's a different path for him to travel to basically the same spot this year.
"Last year I knew coming in I had to prove myself, and I had to come out here and work hard," Develin says, without a hint of sarcasm in his voice. He says it, and he actually means it. "Coming out this year it's kind of the same battle, and I've got to come out here and prove myself again…prove that I'm tough, prove that I'm reliable and hopefully earn a spot."
Develin's relative struggle for roster relevancy is unique. To begin with, he played defense in college. Now on the other side of the ball, fullbacks are almost non-existent in today's day and age of spread formations and receivers lining up five-wide. He doesn't have breakaway speed. But what he does have is toughness. Sure, he has desire. A lot of players have that. What might set him apart, however, is the apparent willingness to do whatever his coaches ask of him…like play a little at tight end and contribute on special teams, too…and do it well.
It's exactly what keeps him relevant, and in the mix to land a spot on the final 53-man roster. He's embracing the lay-of-the-land before him, pressure and all.
"It's a good sense of urgency. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you constantly yearning for more, you're never content with where you are," Develin says of the opportunity he has. "It is a little bit of a day in, day out struggle, but I wouldn't have it any other way. That's professional football."
"James has done a lot of good things since he's been here," Caserio adds. "He's earned all of his opportunities with his performance and his work ethic."
Stars will be stars, and they'll always shine brightly. Players also come and go from year to year, and disappear before they're ever seen. Guys like Develin, however?
They're part of the fabric of what helps make the NFL great. Everyone loves to root for the underdog. Everyone loves the little-known or lesser-known guy in the trenches who perseveres through the physical and mental endurance tests…and ultimately wins. It's easy to see why. They seem genuine.
They don't mind the grind.
"I enjoy that…just kinda going in there and doing the dirty work, doing the work that needs to be done," Develin says. "I like anything that involves contact. I played defense my entire life through college, and the one thing that correlates to all of the positions (I've played) is contact. It's part of football, it's what I was brought up on…put my head in there and getting down and dirty."
Just like the coaches' ask.
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has been the Patriots' stadium voice for 22 years. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" during the season on Patriots.com Radio for 13 years, and broadcasting college football and basketball for the past 26 years, Rooke is also a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame.