After four years of physically punishing their bodies in football, most players move on to new jobs and phases in their lives. For a select few, however, the dream lives on. Some players get the opportunity to continue playing football by competing in the National Football League.
Six former players from last year’s BYU football team are currently trying to make NFL teams and continue playing the sport at its highest level.
A day in the life of an NFL free agent is long, stressful and challenging. The typical day requires the players to wake up around 5:30 a.m., eat breakfast and attend morning meetings and walk-throughs. A practice then ensues, and lunch follows.
In the afternoon, more team and position meetings are held before another practice. Dinner is next, with more film sessions and meetings until about 9 p.m.
Romney Fuga, a defensive tackle, is currently with one of the top NFL teams from last year, the Denver Broncos. He has been impressed with the organization thus far.
“The veterans are very welcoming,” Fuga said. “The organization is very classy, and it reflects with the players and how they treat others.”
The Broncos run a different defense than what BYU ran, so Fuga has had to learn a whole new defense.
“At BYU we ran a 3–4 defense, and here in Denver they run a 4–3 defense, so it’s been taking some time to adjust to playing their schemes,” Fuga said. “At BYU, I was over the center. Here I can be over the center or outside the guard.”
Fuga went on to say it has felt unnatural at times and he has had to go against the position training he received at BYU but that the new schemes are coming along.
While Fuga is learning a different scheme, a lot of what he learned at BYU has stayed with him and is beneficial during practice.
“I think what BYU does a good job at is teaching us how to practice hard,” Fuga said. “Coach Mendenhall was on our case if we were jogging on the field. They always wanted you to go all out in practices.”
Fuga explained that all rookies have been housed in a hotel together during workouts. Another former Cougar, Uona Kaveinga is one of the rookies with Fuga in Denver trying to make the team.
“The rookies kind of hang out together because we’re all in the same boat trying to make the team,” Fuga said. “Naturally, we gravitate to each other. It’s nice to have a familiar face out here especially in a tough environment where this business isn’t the easiest to succeed in.”
Preston Hadley, a cornerback from last year, was working with the Seattle Seahawks before a broken hand ended his brief stint with the team recently.
Before the injury, Hadley had done well in Seattle and enjoyed his time with the Seahawks.
“The coaches were super positive and super enthusiastic,” Hadley said. “They had a positive attitude toward everything. They try to instill confidence in all the players.”
Hadley should be healthy again in a few weeks and hopes to be given a chance by another team.
While with the Seahawks, Hadley learned what the NFL was like and the challenges that came with it.
“Mentally it tires you out,” Hadley said. “They install so many of the schemes so fast and you have to be able to take it all in. You have a day to learn it in the morning, then you’re supposed to know it at practice.”
Like Fuga, Hadley believes the way BYU’s football team practiced helped him be prepared for the NFL.
“We practice really hard,” Hadley said. “Seattle is huge on effort, and that’s the biggest thing here. I thought I was better conditioned than most of the guys there.”
The life of an NFL free agent is not for everyone. The mental challenges, along with the physical demands brought on by the jump in competition, are tough to overcome.
“There is a lot of pressure,” Hadley said. “You’re being evaluated every day, and you never know when it’s your last day.”
Other former BYU players trying to make their own stories in the NFL are linebackers Uona Kaveinga, currently with the Broncos alongside Fuga, and Braden Brown, currently with the St. Louis Rams.
Linebacker Brandon Ogletree and offensive lineman Braden Hansen signed free agent contracts with the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders, respectively, but both have been cut from the rosters.