For NFL long shots, draft day is an unpredictable emotional roller coaster

Published: Sunday, May 11 2014 4:45 p.m. MDT

Utah tight end Jake Murphy (82) gets tackled by Colorado defensive back Jered Bell (21) and Colorado defensive back Parker Orms (13) during the first half of a football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

EDITORS NOTE: This is the second in an occasional series on a group of local athletes trying to make an NFL roster. The Deseret News will follow the seven men for the next year as they struggle to make their dreams reality on the most high-profile stage in sports.

John Martinez sat with his best friend in the room where he grew up and discussed what comes after the death of a childhood dream.

Then a phone call changed everything.

“It was the worst, stressful waiting game ever,” said the Cottonwood alum of waiting for an NFL team to offer him a free-agent deal after the draft ended Saturday night.

The phone call came from Seattle assistant offensive line coach Pat Ruel, who was the man who recruited Martinez in high school to play for USC. When then-Trojan head coach Pete Carroll took the Seahawks job, Ruel went with him. In a few minutes, Martinez went from thinking his NFL hopes were dashed to believing he's found the perfect situation to succeed.

“(Ruel) was telling me good things,” Martinez said. “He told the staff I was a tough kid, a hard hitter, and that I would put it on the line if I played for them.”

His endorsement convinced the organization to offer Martinez a free-agent contract. Martinez said he’s thrilled to be heading to Seattle.

“I’m excited, definitely, but I still have to try to prove something to them, that I can play at the next level,” he said.

The USC graduate wasn’t the only one trying to hold out hope as he felt his dream of playing professional football fading with each passing minute. In hundreds of homes, football players waited for word on whether they would even have a long shot at the NFL careers they’d worked so hard to make a reality.

A few miles north of Martinez’s Murray home, one of the University of Utah players with whom Martinez worked out this spring was dealing with his own disappointment.

“It was really stressful,” said Jake Murphy, who left school early to declare for the draft because, as a returned missionary, he’s already 24 years old, and football is a sport that favors youth. “The hardest part was teams are calling you, telling you that they’re going to pick you here, pick you there, and then you don’t see your name.”

He focused on playing with his daughter to alleviate the stress, and he vented his frustrations and fears to his wife throughout the day as they monitored the draft’s final rounds.

“I was really just trying to get my mind off of it, really just trying to get through it all,” said the tight end. “Today there wasn’t ever a run on tight ends. Call it bad luck, whatever you want. It just didn’t turn out in the draft.”

Even before the draft ended, Murphy was fielding calls from teams that had run out of picks. Some called him, others called his agent, as teams offered free-agent deals that were difficult to compare because one of the conditions is accepting or declining immediately. It just increased in intensity when the draft ended.

His Utah teammate Karl Williams was texting him, reminding him that being an underdog isn’t always a bad thing to be.

Williams said his situation was different from his friend’s because he didn’t expect to be drafted.

“For me it’s been kind of an easy process,” he said. “I came from being a walk-on to being a starter. For me, I just want a chance.”

He had about 15 teams contact him in the week preceding, but the Oakland Raiders were the most promising. Some of those making decisions wanted to draft him late, while others wanted to wait.

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