NFL Evolution will feature a guest columnist every Tuesday, each with a different viewpoint of player health and safety from the youth level to pro football.
By Chris Golic, NFL Evolution columnist
Next week the NFL Draft is headed to Chicago. After months of training, testing, prodding and interviews, NFL hopefuls will finally find out where the next chapter of their lives will begin. It is a very exciting yet nerve-wracking time for all the guys who have their sights set on the NFL.
During draft weekend, the lights will shine brightly on the likes of players named Winston, Mariota and Cooper. This three-day NFL Draft marathon for the top guys ends quickly and usually with a party. The majority of guys though find out their fate on the second and third days in rounds 2-6. Then there are some guys whose phone calls come from teams after the cameras have been turned off and Mel Kiper is on his way to the airport. These guys are the undrafted free agents, and this is where my son will fall. Not the most ideal position to be in at draft time, but hey if it means an opportunity to be issued a set of shoulder pads and a helmet, we consider ourselves lucky.
I have had an up close and personal seat through the process three times now. The first time was in 1985 when my then-boyfriend and now husband Mike was drafted in the 10th round. I experienced it again in 2012 when my oldest son Mike was draft eligible, and this year I will go through it once more with my son Jake. Let me tell you, these were some of the longest days I have experienced.
From my "Mom" chair, I look at the path to making a roster like a three-lane highway where the inside lane is reserved for the top picks. Teams put them in the best position to succeed because they have invested time, money and their scouting reputation on those players' abilities to make their teams better. They set those players up in every possible way to succeed.
The next lane is for the rest of their picks. These are guys they liked enough to draft and while their lane can be a little less smooth, it's still paved and manageable. Then finally, you have the outside lane, the one free agents travel down. I see this lane as being unpaved and sprinkled with shards of glass. These players are forced to go barefoot as they move down this road. Traveling in this lane is tough, and it tests your fortitude on a daily basis.
The odds of making it to an NFL roster traveling in this lane are long, but guys do succeed. We as a family of undrafted free agents focus on this during the journey, the guys who beat the odds.
My husband was one of those guys in the middle lane and managed to carve out a respectable nine-year career in the league. Mark Schlereth, a guy we also know, was a 10th-round pick as well. He too managed to beat the odds and has a bunch of Super Bowls rings to show for it. It can be done. My oldest son, Mike, signed with the New Orleans Saints last week, and Jake's journey will likely begin sometime around 6 p.m. on May 2.
No matter how the NFL story ends for my two guys, I know they will be OK because they will have done all that they could to make it happen. In life, I think the most important thing is to be able to look in the mirror and say you gave it your best shot regardless of how your story ultimately is written.
So when ESPN and the NFL Network sign off next Saturday, remember the guys like my son Jake, who will be hoping that their phones ring and they too get their shot at the NFL.
Enjoy the draft everyone!
Christine Golic is the NFL's Consultant on Youth Football and a member of the Heads Up Football Advisory Committee. Golic is the wife of Mike Golic, a nine year NFL veteran and co-host of ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning," and mother of two sons who played college football at Notre Dame and a daughter who is a swimmer at Notre Dame.