As many agents do, I went to a bowl game in 1995 in order to sign my soon to be client right after his final game. It was the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX. The player was Iowa FS Damien Robinson. I got to the game a little late but when I walked into the Alamo Dome, there was a frantic cheer ringing through the corridors. I obviously just missed a big play. As I waited in line for a soft drink before I got to my seat, I noticed about one third of the Iowa fans were wearing a number “6” jersey. As I walked into the stadium number 6 just caught a kickoff and electrified the crowd with a dazzling speedy return.
Right before the beginning of the second half, I was in line for the bathroom when, in an instant, the Iowa fans scattered, forgoing their place in line when the kickoff was announced. As one fan scurried by me, he yelled, “I am not missing a Dwight return”. Nor was any other Iowa fan in the bathroom. It was obvious that there was a special relationship between this player and the crowd. I later figured out why! It was the first time I saw Tim Dwight play in person and on that day he burned an impression deep into my football DNA.
I knew I wanted to represent this kid after his senior year. At the time, I didn’t know what type of NFL prospect he would be, and I didn’t care. He played with such determination and passion; I wanted to make sure he got an opportunity. I eventually signed him and represented him throughout his 10-year career.
Today, choosing which players to represent is a more difficult task than just seeing a player you admire. Having to invest $15,000 to $25,000 into training/housing/feeding/promoting each new client, agents have to be more selective as to whom they want to invest into. We have to make sure our clients can play at the next level, are healthy and have character to fend off social pressures that can bring them down.
Although I’ve been around football my whole life, played with NFL players, even HOF DB Darrell Green, I’ve made some horrific mistakes in representing the wrong players.
Here are just a few:
I once signed the top rated Nose tackle/DT going into the draft. Before the Internet was born, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today and Mel Kiper rated this player #1 at his position. “This is it” I thought in my early years as an agent, “my first 1st round pick”. The draft came and went and to my surprise my client wasn’t drafted at all. Finally, Denver called after the draft and signed him as a free agent. It was a long weekend. Later I found out that the player had a mangled knee. He should have gotten it fixed prior to his senior year. But he didn’t, it got worse and was flagged at the Combine. Everyone knew about his knee, including my client, but me. He was cut at the end of camp and never played again.
Lesson learned: Sign healthy players
I represented a small school linebacker that was drafted in the 5th round by a now NFC South team. When he got to camp, he was out of shape, failed the conditioning test and slithered out of camp. Then he went to the bank and tried to withdraw $35,000 in cash (what was left of his signing bonus) through the drive through teller window from a Taxi on the way to the airport. The bank called the team and the GM went to war with the kid getting their signing bonus back. Later I found out he tested positive for cocaine type substance.
Lesson learned: Represent character, character, and character
A linebacker I represented who was healthy, had character and lit up the SEC with sacks and tackles looked like a great bet. Teams told me that if he could lose some weight he would be a great player. I flew him to a NFL conditioning specialist for 5 weeks. When I picked him up at his hotel to take him back to the airport he was telling me he made great progress. As I ran back to room to make sure he didn’t forget anything, I noticed a stack of empty pizza boxes squired away in the closet. The ants were already finishing off the crumbs. The player was released after several games because he was slow and fat.
Lesson learned: Clients must possess discipline
After learning these valuable lessons as a young agent, and in order to prevent myself from signing players that will waste my time, money and resources, I quickly warmed up to the NFL scouting community. I spent many years getting to know the top decision makers and the area scouts. I immersed myself in the science and the forensics of the evaluation process. I quizzed and still do any scout who will give me the time of day. I want to make sure I represent players who have a chance. Nobody appreciates the job and importance of a scout like I do.
Secondly, I make sure that the players I work with are of high moral character. Scouts don’t always get that right but I go the extra mile to find these players. I also noticed that the higher maintenance a player is the less successful they will be.
Scouts and agents intersect on several levels. We help them get jobs, sign undrafted players, set up workouts and exchange intel on other players. They help us figure out the best players to represent. If you have any inkling at all to work with future NFL players, you better learn to scout or get to know some great scouts. Or you will find yourself spinning your wheels, wasting your money and putting out fires for a player who may never make it.
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