Leaving Family and Making Millions: The real stories of 2017 NFL Draft

After a decade plus of training sessions, weight rooms, team meetings and performing in front of thousands of fans on a weekly basis, you might think draft day is the be all and end all for American football prospects hoping to make it into the pros. The reward for countless hours of work on and off the field and the chance to make untold riches as they clash with some of the best athletes the game has to offer. 

Draft Time 

Between April 27 and April 29, hundreds of young players will start their journey into the NFL. And while the majority of prospects will be signed as undrafted free agents after the main event, the cream of the crop will hear their names read out on national television.

While plenty are champing at the bit to start their pro careers, some young men are more than a little apprehensive about leaving the amateur game behind, along with their families and hometowns. The prospects themselves have very little control of their destiny and for some, it can be stressful spending so much time thinking about where they’ll be playing the game they love in the coming season.

Jermaine Eluemunor – Londoner Rising Fast

“I’m pretty familiar with moving to an unfamiliar place. But it’s weird to me too!” says offensive tackle prospect Jermaine Eluemunor. The 6”4, 332-pound behemoth was born in London and moved to the USA at the age of 14 to chase his dream of playing American Football. He succeeded in his goal and went on to represent Texas A&M for two seasons before declaring for the NFL draft.

Initially regarded as a raw prospect who could have been taken by a team as an undrafted free agent, he’s seen his draft stock rise as the end of April approaches as teams scan a draft class light on top offensive line talent.

“I’m in Texas right now, but in a month I have no idea where I’m going to be living,” he adds.

“I want to live in Texas for the rest of my life but I have no idea where I’m going to be living in a couple of months, so it’s kind of weird to be thinking about that. I try not to think about it too much because if I do I’ll just go crazy!” 

Eluemunor can be forgiven for feeling the pressure. With Texas A&M’s campus being at the southern tip of the United States, he could be in for quite a culture shock come May. In one of NFL.com’s latest mock drafts, Eluemunor’s projected to be drafted by the Minnesota Vikings; about 1,400 miles north of Houston. A five-hour plane ride is a long trip for a busy NFL rookie trying to wrap his head around the pro game.

It’s not just the destination that remains an unknown for players such as Eluemunor. While a first round pick can net somewhere between $5m and $20m in a signing bonus, that figure drops to less that $100,000 for late round draft picks. For every position a player slides down the draft, it can cost them thousands of dollars. Perhaps then, it’s not surprising Eluemunor tries to shut out the draft chat.

“I used to [read the mock drafts] back when I didn’t know whether or not I was going to get drafted,” he says. “But now I’ve been talking to my agent and I’ve been talking to my O-line coach and they advised me to stay away from all that.”

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But the process hasn’t been all doom and gloom for Eluemunor. He said of the combine: “It was a hell of an experience. I was in Indianapolis, I was in Lucas Oil Stadium, just to be the part of everything that happened there was a dream come true because I’ve seen it on TV for so long.

“To put on that gear with your name on the back and your number on the front with all those NFL GMs and head coaches there, it was fun.”

Obi Melifonwu – Combine Standout

Some players raise their draft profile with stellar college careers. Some make memorable plays in Bowl games that lodge in scouts’ minds. Others fire their names up draft boards by turning up to the combine and flat out leaping out of the gym.

University of Connecticut standout Obi Melifonwu belongs to the latter camp. The 2017 draft class promises an abundance of talent at defensive back. But despite the competition, Melifonwu managed to stand out by landing one of the biggest broad jumps ever recorded by a human at 11 feet and nine inches. Not bad for a 6”4 defensive back that tips the scales at 220 pounds.

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Like Eluemunor, Melifonwu is trying not to dwell on where he might be living after he’s selected by a team. “I actually haven’t really thought about it that much,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a big change.”

Growing up in New England going to school an hour away from where I live and potentially getting drafted to a place across the country is definitely a big deal.

But Melifonwu is embracing the coming change and is looking forward to seeing more of the country off the back of it. “It will help me get out and see new things, so it’s really exciting and I’m really interested to see where I get picked up,” he added.

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Javancy Jones – Doing it for Family

While Eluemunor and Melifonwu look likely to go in the first few rounds of the draft, there’s plenty of fringe prospects who will have to wait a little longer to hear their name called.

One such player is Jackson State defensive star Javancy Jones. He might not have been in the draft discussion at all had he not been a late invite to the East-West Shrine Game, where he racked up several big plays and planted himself on the radar of the attending NFL scouts and GMs.

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Now he’s being talked about as a late-round selection, but the worries about a change in location are still evident ahead of the draft.

“It will be difficult leaving my little girl and my momma,” he admits.

When Jones left high school he had the option to attend some bigger colleges, but eventually opted for Jackson State to stay close to his family, especially his mother who suffers from Devic’s disease, a rare neurological condition.

But despite his reservations about potentially leaving his home in the South, he’s willing to move away to help provide for his family. “They understand I need to get out there in order for them to have a great life,” he added.

With players like Jones, you get the impression they might be happier spending their lives living where they grew up, close to their nearest and dearest. But when you’re from a small town in Mississippi, the financial rewards offered by even a short career in the NFL can be too much to ignore. If Jones is drafted in the sixth round as many predict, he could earn $100,000 just for turning up to training camp.

Germone Hopper – Last Chance Saloon

At the tail end of this year’s projected draft class, there’s plenty of surprise packages. Germone Hopper spent last season working in a barbershop as a receptionist after dropping out of Clemson’s illustrious football programme.

He missed his final year after spending three seasons backing up future NFL stars Martavis Bryant, Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. Now he’s just desperate for a team to roll the dice and give him a chance to prove himself in the NFL. “I’m just trying to stay prepared the best was possible so I can go into any situation,” he said.

His decision to drop out of Clemson was partly fuelled by his desire to remain close to his young daughter. But looking back, he reckons he could have handled the situation better. And now he’s ready to up sticks and find a new home, even if it means leaving his family behind.

“I’m way more mature now than I was at that age when I was making those decisions,” he added.

“Now I have a totally different outlook on travelling and being away from home. I understand that it’s just business and that I have to branch out and go other places because it’s what this game requires. My mind is already prepared to leave my family and start over somewhere else.”

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Show Time

In a month’s time, almost every NFL draft pick’s life will have changed in a big way. But prospects worried about their next destination might find some consolation in the draft experience of former NFL tight end Kyle Brady. Brady was a highly-rated prospect out of college and was drafted ninth overall by the New York Jets in 1995.

He was an unpopular selection with Jets fans as they wanted their side to draft future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp instead, who went with the twelfth pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, when Brady’s name was read as the team’s selection at Madison Square Garden, Jets fans booed and chanted “We want Sapp! We want Sapp!”

Did Brady care about where he was drafted or about the fans’ reaction? Not a bit. “I was just so relieved to get to that day,” he said. “All those years of playing at the amateur levels, avoiding major injuries and then going through my pre-draft workouts getting ready for that day, the hay was in the barn.”

Come the night of the event, relief, not fear, might well be the number one emotion in the draft prospects’ minds.

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