May 16, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Georgetown University football player Ataefiok Etukeren (Phoenix, Ariz./The Lawrenceville School [N.J.]) hopes to get the graduation gift he wants most in the day or two after he receives his degree this weekend.
The senior and 2009 All-Patriot League selection had his finals week preparations shelved for a couple of days after he was invited to a rookie mini-camp from May 1-3 with the Buffalo Bills. Following the weekend, Etukeren came back to campus and had two finals he needed to study for in the next two days.
The extra work and aggravation will be worth it, however, if the 6-3, 245-pound defensive end gets the phone call he's hoping for on Monday or Tuesday.
On Saturday, May 16, Etukeren will walk across a stage, shake hands and earn his degree in operations management from the McDonough School of Business. Soon after he gets his hands on his diploma, he's hoping to get his hands on an offensive lineman or a quarterback in an attempt to make the Bills roster.
There could be one or two other teams that call - he had received inquiries around the time of the NFL Draft in late April from the St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos - but after his performance at the mini-camp in Buffalo, Etukeren is hopeful that he'll be calling The Queen City his home.
"I went up there and did my best," Etukeren said. "I played fast and I played well, so it's out of my hands now. I know it's very close to Canada, I know its snows up there a lot and they like wings, but that's pretty much it."
Waiting through the NFL Draft wasn't a big deal for Etukeren. There had been some rumblings that a speedy and strong defensive end/linebacker from Georgetown could get taken in the last round, but that did not happen. "I was actually doing a marketing project in the library and a guy from the (St. Louis) Rams called me before the sixth or seventh round," Etukeren said. "He said they weren't sure what they were going to be doing. Obviously, I didn't think there was a chance I was going to get drafted, but with him calling me, it gave me the thought there might be a chance."
He did have a chance after the draft. That's when NFL Scouting really shows its importance, as teams sign undrafted players to free agent contracts. Teams will draft anywhere from seven to 12 players, then sign another five to 10 to contracts. In addition to those players, another 10 to 20 players will be invited to try out for a handful of spots.
So on the Sunday night after the draft, Etukeren's agent, Joby Branion of Athletes First, spoke to the Rams, but also spoke to the Bills, who wanted him to come in and work out as a defensive end in their 4-3 scheme. It was a bit of a twist for Etukeren, who spent most of his off-season working out as a linebacker because many teams thought he could be a good fit at that position in a 3-4 scheme.
Either way, once the logistics were squared away, Etukeren finished up classes and then flew to Buffalo, where he worked out with about 30 other rookies, including Buffalo draft picks such as first rounder Aaron Maybin of Penn State.
"I got there Thursday evening and they put us up in a hotel," he said. "You sign some papers, Coach (Dick) Jauron spoke to us and their player personnel spoke to us to give us the team's expectations. Their draft picks were there too, so it was interesting to see those guys, who weren't necessarily in the same situation as me, but going through the same practices."
There were two-a-day practices on Friday and Saturday, and one on Sunday before he came back to the District. Before he left for Buffalo, Georgetown Head Coach Kevin Kelly, Strength & Conditioning Coach Augie Maurelli and former Hoya Alex Buzbee all told Etukeren not to worry so much about mistakes he might make, but to play hard and to play fast.
Despite having trained at linebacker for the off-season, Etukeren eagerly accepted the chance to head to Buffalo, where he was instructed by defensive line coach Bob Sanders. "He talked a lot about overcoming adversity, about how you have to keep on pursuing and having the will to succeed," Etukeren said of Sanders. "He related about how he had a stutter as a kid and he was able to overcome that and is coaching in the NFL."
Many of the coaches and personnel were familiar with his play at Georgetown, but he did give some instruction on the pronunciation of his name. "Some of the players didn't realize we are in Washington, D.C.," he said, "but the coaches didn't really know how to pronounce my name so more often than not they just called me Georgetown."
Etukeren said that while he never really spoke to the Bill Head Coach, Dick Jauron, he was able to have a fair amount of interaction with Sanders during the weekend. "He gave the defensive line collectively a lot of attention," Sanders said. "Coming from the college level to the NFL is obviously a lot different, so we did a lot of individual drills in terms of getting an offensive lineman's hands off us, coming around the circle and going to attack the quarterback. It was very useful."
It was also useful to have had the experience of going through the mini camp to see where he stood among other free agents. Etukeren left feeling confident and received positive reviews on his play. "I went in to get my ankles taped on the last day and they had me fill out another form," he explained. "I felt positive coming out of the experience and my agent said they liked me, so it's a matter of a spot opening up."
And that's all Etukeren has wanted from the start, just a shot to show that he could make himself a viable commodity in the National Football League.
"Four years ago, I don't think I would have necessarily been thinking I would be playing in an All-Star game or trying out for an NFL team," Etukeren said. "It's been pretty rewarding.
"Being able to get an invitation back and having a chance to make a team would be just a dream come true. It would be the best graduation present I could imagine."