2015 NFL Draft: Long shots with inspirational back stories


The football world has been slow to learn about Texas long snapper Nate Boyer.

College Football 24/7mentioned him in early January, as he was readying to play in the Medal of Honor Bowl all-star game, and Sports Illustrated told Boyer's inspirational story Monday.

The short version: Boyer, 34, is a former Green Beret who has had multiple war-zone deployments, including to Afghanistan each of the past two summers while a member of the Texas Army National Guard.

He is an extreme long shot to be drafted; as if his age wasn't enough, there have been just three long snappers selected in NFL draft history (we're not counting players who became long snappers, just players actually drafted as long snappers who didn't play another position). Still, he should get a camp invitation, if for no other reason than the guy is a great story. As for going through a rigorous preseason football camp, it's a safe assumption that Boyer would scoff at terming a preseason football camp as "rigorous."

Here are five other draft longshots with inspirational stories.

LB Neiron Ball, Florida

The back story: Ball worked out at Florida's pro day on Tuesday, and you have to figure he was happy to be back on the field. Ball suffered a knee injury in mid-November that required microfracture surgery. But, frankly, he likely shrugged off the knee injury, as he has been through far, far worse. Both of Ball's parents died before he was 10 (his mom from a heart attack when he was 6, his dad from cancer when he was 9). His brother, Neland, was a sophomore defensive end at Georgia when his career ended in 2009 because of a severe car accident. Then, Neiron missed the 2011 season at UF because of a rare condition that caused blood vessels in his brain to rupture and led doctors to think he could die. He recovered from the brain surgery and remarkably was able to return to the field in 2012. It's unlikely he will be drafted, but his athleticism and sheer fortitude should get him a free-agent shot.

OT Doniel Gambrell, Notre Dame College

The back story: Gambrell signed with Eastern Michigan in February 2010 as a 6-foot-6, 248-pound tight end out of powerhouse Cleveland Glenville High; among his high school teammates were Ohio State QB Cardale Jones and Michigan DE Frank Clark. But Gambrell left EMU to be with his then-girlfriend (now wife) and their young child. They now have three children, and to help make ends meet, Gambrell held down a job throughout his college days, including during the season. Gambrell would be the first player ever drafted from Notre Dame College, which is a Division II school in the Cleveland suburb of Euclid. And he very well could be drafted: He is a big man (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) with good feet -- and obviously an excellent work ethic.

P Kyle Loomis, Portland State

The back story: Loomis is one of the best punters available, but it still would be somewhat of a surprise if he is drafted. Loomis is 27 years old -- numerous 27-year-olds in the NFL have just finished their sixth or seventh pro season -- and took a circuitous route to Portland State, a FCS school. He was Oregon State's punter as a true freshman in 2006, but was unhappy and left school in the summer of 2007. Almost a year later, in July 2008, he joined the Army. He served almost four years in the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., though two surgeries kept him mostly behind a desk. He received a medical discharge in February 2012 and went to work for the Oregon Department of Transportation for six months. He walked on at Portland State in 2013. He became the Vikings' punter that fall and averaged 46.5 yards. He averaged 46.0 yards this past season, when 30 of his 75 punts went at least 50 yards.

G Arthur Ray, Fort Lewis

The back story: Ray was a three-star recruit out of powerhouse Chicago Mount Carmel High who signed with Michigan State in February 2007. He has played in just 17 games in the past seven years, but his story of perseverance in the face of incredible odds should get him a training-camp opportunity somewhere this summer. In April 2007, while still a senior in high school, he began chemotherapy for a tumor in his left leg, near his calf, that was discovered a week after he signed with the Spartans. Ray eventually needed surgery to remove the tumor and didn't enroll at Michigan State until January 2008. But an infection invaded his leg, and he had to have three bone-graft surgeries in '08, which also forced him to leave school. (He had nine total surgeries on his leg.) Ray basically spent all of 2009 and '10 on crutches, then was cleared to participate in spring ball for Michigan State in 2011. He played in three games that fall, then sat out the 2012 season to focus on earning a bachelor's degree in communications. He transferred to Fort Lewis, a Division II school in Colorado, and played in six games in 2013 before he was sidelined by a knee injury and eight in '14; Ray (6-2, 292) was a second-team All-Rocky Mountain Conference selection last fall. Who wouldn't want this guy in camp, even if he is 25?

TE Jean Sifrin, Massachusetts

The back story: The Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown led the NFL with 129 catches in 2014, his fifth season in the league. Why are we mentioning this? Sifrin and Brown were high school classmates at Miami's Norland High. Brown graduated from Norland in 2005, but Sifrin -- who played basketball and football in high school -- dropped out as a senior that year to work. Sifrin eventually received his GED and decided he wanted to give college a try. He attended two junior colleges, one in New York and one in California; UMass found him at El Camino CC in California, where he played the 2013 season. Sifrin had 42 receptions for 642 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and six TDs last fall at UMass, then decided to enter the draft a year early. He will be 27 when the 2015 season kicks off. He could be a late-round pick because of his size (6-4 1/2, 245) and upside, but he is raw and might need a year or two to develop; given his age, some teams might not be willing to wait. (Among the Norland alums who already are in the NFL are WR Dwayne Bowe and CB Xavier Rhodes, while Miami RB Duke Johnson and OT Ereck Flowers are Norland grads who should be drafted this year.)

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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