Long shots: Former NFL receiver helps local athletes make opportunities for themselves

Published: Sunday, April 27 2014 6:30 p.m. MDT

USC's John Martinez carries 320 pounds while training at John Madsen Performance in Sandy on Thursday, April 24, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SANDY — Gavin Farr has lived his life as a long shot.

When he was an offensive lineman at Northridge High in Layton, he knew he wanted to play college football.

Even though he received more interest from baseball coaches than football coaches, he knew he was good enough to play the sport he loves in college.

All he needed was an open door.

He eventually found one, opened ever so slightly for him, at Southern Utah University.

“I knew I was good enough to play in college,” he said. “I just needed a chance to prove it. I got a partial scholarship to SUU and right off the bat, before camp ended, I earned more scholarship money. By the following year, I had a full-ride.”

In four years, he earned multiple all-conference and Big Sky awards.

But instead of using his college degree to find a desk job, the 23-year-old is once again searching for an opportunity to prove himself capable of beating even bigger odds. Farr wants to earn a living playing football in the NFL.

“I just really loved football,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to give up the dream, and I feel I’m good enough.”

He isn’t alone.

Hundreds of young men who played at colleges large and small, for programs that won and with teams that struggled, have declared themselves eligible for the 2014 NFL draft. Most of them are only familiar to scouts and the most diehard college football fans. They know the road they’ve chosen is difficult and that the likelihood of them succeeding isn’t very good.

But for guys like Gavin Farr, slim possibilities are nothing new.

“It’s always been my dream to play in the NFL,” said Karl Williams, a fullback from Utah. “Since I was little, it’s always been my dream, going through high school, even going through times that were hard, when I wasn’t playing or getting big numbers. I think it’s every football player’s passion.”

John Madsen understands that passion. It’s what helped the former Utah receiver earn a roster spot with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2008. After three years in the NFL, Madsen now runs a training center in Sandy and is working with a handful of athletes hoping to put themselves in the best position possible when a call comes — whether that’s late in the draft, to sign as a free agent, or to receive an invitation to a minicamp or team camp.

Madsen, who owns and operates John Madsen Performance, said the group sort of came together accidentally. But he believes they will improve their chances of achieving their dreams by working together, even though each guy’s situation is unique.

“It’s a huge benefit for them,” Madsen said. “It’s far superior for them to be training in a group than individually. They’re used to doing that. Football is a team sport, and it helps them focus their training. They all have the same goals.”

That’s evident on Friday morning as the athletes engage in partner and head-to-head drills that include box jumps. When Madsen decides Williams needs a greater challenge, USU defensive lineman AJ Pataiali'i decides he wants in on the action. Williams finishes with three consecutive jumps onto a 46-inch box, after which Pataiali'i asks Madsen if he can give the biggest box a try.

“No,” Madsen said, explaining there is too much to lose. But Pataiali'i is confident, and the coach eventually relents.

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