The transition from college football to the NFL is hard for any athlete competing in the top league of the popular American sport. Imagine the pressure for a college player signing as a free agent on an NFL team.
Four BYU players experienced this feeling after recently signing free-agent contracts with NFL teams following the draft. Terence Brown — who played center and guard — signed with the Miami Dolphins, McKay Jacobson — a wide receiver — signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo signed with the Houston Texans and offensive lineman Matt Reynolds signed with the Carolina Panthers.
Terence tearing it up with the Dolphins
Miami hosts a young team, and by signing the free-agent contract with the Dolphins, Terence Brown hopes to help the growing process.
“It’s a new coaching style,” Brown said, “but I think it will be fun to be part of an up and coming team.”
Brown offers an impressive stance for the developing Dolphins. Brown played in 50 games during his college career, playing on an offensive line that allowed zero sacks in five games. He can cover several spots across the line and hopes to show the Dolphins how he can contribute to the team.
“I just want to show that I can play multiple positions and show athleticism and improve as a blocker up front,” he said. “My strengths are versatility and knowledge of the game.”
By displaying these strengths, Brown has a chance to play on a special team. The Dolphins’ roster includes a number of talented lineman, but Brown aspires to provide the stamina the Dolphins need as they expand their skill set and record.
“This is exhilarating, and not many people have this opportunity — I feel blessed to even have it,” Brown said. “They don’t wait for you to catch up, I just have to go out and learn the playbook and make sure I’m on the right track.”
Jacobson soaring toward the Eagles
Most everyone thought the Eagles would play in the Super Bowl last season. When the talent-stacked team did not even make it to the playoffs, football fans across the nation gasped. Free agent McKay Jacobson hopes to play with the Eagles as they strive to redeem themselves this season.
Jacobson finished his college career with 113 passes for 1,836 yards and nine touchdowns. He played 48 games. He signed with the Eagles after they drafted All-Americans Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks and third draft pick quarterback Nick Foles.
Training with a talented team like the Eagles as a free agent means opportunities for development. Though the training camps will be intense, Jacobson may even learn from one of the best wide receivers in the league, DeSean Jackson.
Jacobson may not receive much playing time, but working with a developed player like Jackson should help him to improve the skills to land him a spot on the official roster.
Playing for the Eagles would place Jacobson on a list of several former BYU players to do so, including Chad Lewis, Ty Detmer and Eagles coach Andy Reid himself.
Hebron for Houston
The Houston Texans have a history of incredible defense, and defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo said in an email he hopes to carry on that legacy.
“I’m excited to compete with a top-notch offense and defense,” Fangupo said. “I’m ready to learn all I can from coaches and players, and I believe being able to compete with such great players can help my game tremendously.”
Fangupo played on BYU’s rushing defense, ranked 19th nationally, and that experience will serve as preparation for working to make the Texans roster.
“I’m excited to get to Houston and work hard,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to learn the plays and be physically fit.”
The Texans recently lost first-round draft pick Mario Williams and replaced the defensive lineman with Whitney Mercilus. While the Texans will not need defensive help immediately, Fangupo looks for a chance to impress the coaches during upcoming rookie camps.
“I can’t speak to what chances I have to play, because honestly, that will be up to the coaches,” he said. “I can say that I will take care of the things I am in control of. I will give all my effort towards the workouts, plays and studying film. I want to make the most of the opportunity that God has given me.”
Reynolds pursues the Panthers
The Carolina Panthers signed twelve undrafted players this season, and among that number is BYU’s offensive lineman Matt Reynolds. Of all the free-agents from BYU, Reynolds’ records and skill set position him as the most likely candidate to land a spot on the official roster in the NFL.
Reynolds started every game of his college career, tying the BYU record for playing 52 games. He contributed to the offensive line, playing in five games which ended with 200+ passing yards. Even without a helmet, as in the Armed Forces Bowl last season when he blocked for a touchdown pass after his helmet got knocked off, he does what it takes to work for the victory.
According to Carter Chow, Reynolds’ agent, Matt is prepared for the challenge of proving he deserves a spot with the Panthers.
“It is difficult to make an NFL roster regardless of how you enter the league,” Chow said. “Matt has had a productive college career and is well-prepared for the challenges of the NFL.”
Reynolds left for Carolina this week and already faces those challenges. As only one of two offensive linemen who signed free-agent contracts with the Panthers and the only tackle, Reynolds feels optimistic about his playing opportunities.
If he claims a spot on the roster, Reynolds would block for the 2011 Rookie of the Year, Cam Newton. Newton’s skills combined with those of two talented running backs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart, make an enticing option for Reynolds as he progresses with the Panthers.
“In addition to his versatility, Matt is very intelligent and has played in a lot of games,” Chow said. “These traits will serve him well as he competes for a roster spot this year.”
To even sign a free-agent contract is an honor for college football athletes. The BYU players will train with their respective teams throughout the preseason before finding out if they make the official roster in September.