Of the five members of the 2016 Coastal Carolina football team who were invited as undrafted free agents to three-day NFL rookie mini-camps in early May, only linebacker Alex Scearce has made a 90-man roster.
Scearce has signed a three-year contract and made the 90-man roster of the Chicago Bears, which means he’ll join the team for training camp next month and will likely be on the team at least through preseason.
“It’s a great opportunity and a great experience,” Scearce said. “They have some veteran guys in front of me at the inside linebacker position so I’ve really got to bust it. There are a lot of people who wish they were in the spot I’m in now.”
NFL teams must cut their rosters from 90 to 53 by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3, which is after the final preseason game and four days prior to the first game of the 2017 season. Teams will have a single cut this year compared to two in recent years, eliminating a cut to 75 players prior to the final preseason game.
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Each team can assign 10 players to its practice squad, and players can remain on practice squads for no more than three seasons. Practice squad players are paid weekly, and the minimum salary in 2016 was $6,900 per week.
Four of Scearce’s 2016 Chanticleers teammates were invited to rookie mini-camps but were not retained by the teams: safety Richie Sampson with the Minnesota Vikings and offensive linemen Voghens Larrieux with the Buffalo Bills, Chase Tidwell with the Seattle Seahawks and Sam Ekwonike with the New York Giants.
Running back De’Angelo Henderson, who was drafted in the fifth round by Denver, has settled in with the Broncos and signed a multi-year endorsement agreement with Nike, according to his agent, Hadley Engelhard.
“Rookies play slower because they’re learning the system, but he’s playing fast,” Engelhard said. “They’re happy with him. They love his character, work ethic and skill set.”
Scearce said there were 18 rookies who had signed contracts at Bears rookie mini-camp – five who were drafted and 13 free agents – and some of those players have already been cut. Free agents are generally offered three-year deals and drafted players four-year deals, though many of the contracts include no guaranteed money.
Scearce is considered an undersized linebacker at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, though he said he has added a few pounds in the past few weeks. He is working as an inside linebacker and said the Bears’ inside backers are smaller in the 3-4 defense than the outside linebackers, who often line up like defensive ends.
Scearce, of Huntersville, N.C., remained in Chicago this past week for the mandatory NFL Rookie Transition Program. He has been going through workouts and conditioning each day, and attending talks from speakers specializing in finance, law enforcement, dress, etc.
Two other former CCU standouts still have opportunities to make NFL rosters.
Matt Hazel has made the 90-man roster of the Washington Redskins, where he has joined former CCU teammate cornerback Josh Norman.
Hazel, who holds the CCU record for career receptions with 183, was drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2014. He played his first two seasons there but saw action in only five games before being waived at the start of the 2016 season. He joined the Buffalo Bills practice squad but was released and joined the Redskins practice squad.
Cornerback Denzel Rice is on the 90-man roster of the Houston Texans. Rice was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in May 2015 and waived in August 2016, then was signed to the Texans’ practice squad on Oct. 19 before moving to the active roster on Dec. 10 and playing in Houston’s regular-season finale on Jan. 1, recording nine total tackles – his first tackles in the NFL.
Those players aspire to become NFL veterans, like former CCU players Norman, fullback Mike Tolbert of the Buffalo Bills and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro of the Baltimore Ravens.
Other CCU alumni who have previously been members of NFL teams include Tyler Thigpen, Quinton Teal, Jerome Simpson and Maurice Simpkins.
Larrieux, Tidwell, Ekwonike and Sampson haven’t given up on their football dreams just yet, and continue to work out and remain in shape.
Sampson tried out for both the Vikings and Houston Texans and his agent, Corey Williams with Overtime Sports Management Group, told him to remain ready. “He thinks there’s a good possibility I’ll get a call,” said Sampson, who has a degree in economics with work toward a second degree in marketing. “Worst-case scenario I’ll start applying for jobs. I’ve already talked to a few people, some connections outside of football to let them know my situation. But football’s still my No. 1 goal.”
Larrieux tried out for both the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs but said neither team retained any linemen who tried out so he’s back in Myrtle Beach.
“The coaches liked my performance; there was just no spot on the roster for me,” said Larrieux, who has a master’s degree in business administration. “I’m on both teams’ short list and I also got a call from the Arizona Cardinals recently so I’m just waiting and praying and staying healthy.”
Ekwonike said he is on the waiting list for the Giants and continues to work out to remain in shape. He has a degree in public health, has started taking classes at Horry Georgetown Tech and is planning to enter the school’s nursing program in January if he doesn’t get a call from the Giants or another team.
Tidwell is teaching offensive line to youth in his hometown of Goose Creek. He has a degree in communications with a minor in marketing and is actively seeking a job in marketing, sales or communications, though he still has a football agent. “I’m open to anything [in football]. If an opportunity arises then of course I’d consider it and probably take it,” Tidwell said.
If football doesn’t work out, the former Coastal players have the benefit of having played under head coach Joe Moglia, the chairman of the board of TD Ameritrade who has weekly Life After Football sessions featuring different topics and speakers. They believe they’re in a good position to succeed, either way.
“It really couldn’t have worked out any better, getting recruited by that staff and getting to spend five years under them,” Sampson said. “I had personal conversations with coach Moglia about different job interests, had him help me sort out what I’m interested in and what I really want to do after football. Not just him but the other coaches on the staff, too.”