There are many roads that can lead to an NFL contract. Collegiate athletes can be drafted by NFL teams, or they can travel the more uncertain road of an undrafted free agent. For former Henderson State standout Antonio Leak, the adrenaline rush of signing his NFL contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent was all the same. Although he experienced many of the issues that most NFL players fear every day of their careers, such as injuries and waivers, Leak conquered them to succeed in the game that matters most – LIFE. Keep reading to learn how his professional team helped him navigate the obstacles he faced and transition smoothly into the NEXT Quarter of his career!
According to the latest NCAA statistics, there are approximately 70,000 collegiate football participants. However, only 16,000 are eligible for the NFL draft and only 256 athletes will be drafted. Although players can take alternative routes to enter the NFL, the odds of making a final roster are slim. Like many collegiate football players, Antonio Leak always knew he wanted to play in the NFL, and he hoped his work ethic and determination would carry him there. Most importantly, he also knew he needed to prepare for life after professional athletics.
The Athlete’s NeXus sat down with Leak to talk about what inspired him to beat the odds.
TAN: What traits enabled you to stand out coming from Henderson State, a small football program, and ultimately be drafted to the National Football League?
AL: I was a Division I player that dropped down to a Division II team. I just stood out by making plays.
TAN: By seizing opportunities and work ethic?
AL: I would say drive, not work ethic. The drive was definitely there. I always knew I wanted to be in the NFL. Making it to the NLF was my passion. It was my childhood dream. So, I knew I wasn’t going to stop until I got there. I out-worked a lot of people to get there.
TAN: You prepared your entire life to achieve your childhood dream and join the elite rank of the NFL. What weren’t you prepared for once you got there? What was the biggest difference [between the NFL and college]?
AL: *with a huge laugh* That big a– playbook! I had to learn both the offensive and defensive plays, as well as special teams. When I got there, I was on offense but they needed me to play both. That was over 500 plays. I had over 1000 pages on my I-Pad! I had to master the terminology for both teams.
TAN: What about the business side? Do you feel you were prepared?
AL: I had a great professional team. I understood that I didn’t need to try to navigate contracts and business matters alone.
TAN: Do you feel like you were involved in your own decisions?
AL: Absolutely. My agent and team kept me updated constantly, like every day. I was made aware of any changes, information, I was kept in the loop. I learned a lot. It allowed me to focus on playing, while still knowing what was happening with my money and career.
TAN: Sounds like you went into the pros with a good support system. Agents, trainers…
Al: I had a great supporting cast. I knew a couple of fellow players that tried to do everything themselves, and they suffered for it. Who is going to negotiate for you? Coaches aren’t going to contact scouts on your behalf. Make sure to do your homework and get a team that already has some experience and has taken good care of other players. They need to have active players and can make calls to get you that tryout or create opportunities. Reputation is important. Don’t go into the league blindfolded.
TAN: The threat of career ending injury is always looming overhead. What would you like to share with up and coming players about how injuries can affect your contract? How can they derail even the best of plans?
AL: Just that! The next man up. If something happens they (The Coaching Staff) are going to call up the next man and keep it moving. There are hundreds of thousands of guys who want your job. If you’re not a top pick, an injury is going to knock you all the way to the starting line. Train hard and do your best but when it’s over, it’s over. Come into the league with a plan for your life afterwards.
TAN: Speaking of which, what did you do to plan for the future? What are you doing now that you would like to share with our readers?
AL: I was pretty smart with my money. I had fun, but I made sure my hard work wasn’t in vain. I come from two generations of entrepreneurs. I always wanted to own big rigs (Tracker trailer trucks), and I love working on diesel engines. So, I started a trucking line. I’m also going to school for aeronautical mechanics to be able to service airplane engines, as well.
Wow! We’re sure Antonio Leak’s work ethic and drive will help him beat the competition in business, too!
By LaToya Baker of The Athlete’s NeXus