A record five international players, including Englishman Jack Crawford (Oakland Raiders DE) and German Markus Kuhn (New York Giants DT), were selected over the weekend, but none of them have a story quite like Ding's.
Ding first played football in 2007, as part of the IFAF / USA Football International Student Program. From there, he landed at Division 3 Norwich University, where he was twice named ECFC Special Teams Player of the Year. He didn't miss a kick inside of 40 yards in his final season. Norwich isn't exactly on the NFL radar, but Ding was invited to the NFL Regional Combine in New York and was then invited to the NFL Super Regional Combine in Detroit.
In short, Ding is the longest of long shots. He traveled 7,000 miles before he really played organized football games and then wound up playing for three different schools. Now he'll participate in an actual NFL minicamp, even if it's just as a tryout player. (Dingsanity probably will have to wait. He doesn't have much chance of making the team with franchise player Josh Scobee in town, although Scobee is unsigned for now.)
The NFL would love to expand its borders beyond just the United States. Earlier this month, IFAF (International Federation of American Football) appointed a Country Administrator in China to create a governing body and establish a plan for developing youth football.
Ding's trip from an international student program through tiny colleges to the newly formed Regional Combine is a great sign there are new paths emerging for players who hope to make the NFL.