It’s not supposed to happen.
Guys like Tyler Hendrickson aren’t supposed to make it to the NFL.
He’s a 6’7”, 315 pound left tackle who’s never missed a game and only gave up 4 sacks his last two seasons, but the odds are stacked against him. He wasn’t wanted out of high school, so why would that change now?
“I was mildly recruited,” is how Hendrickson put it when we talked on the phone yesterday.
So he chose to stay closest to home and attend tiny Concordia University in St. Paul, MN. But even that didn’t start out the way he had hoped. After racking up 11 sacks and catching a TD pass as a DE/TE, Hendrickson had visions of playing a skill position, not in the trenches.
“To be honest it was mixed emotions, I wanted to play right away but in high school I was used to being glorified as a defensive end/tight end type, but we didn’t use our tight ends much (at Concordia). The coaches sat me down and said the best opportunity to get on the field right away would be to play tackle.” He said.
It wasn’t the first potential career choice Hendrickson had to make. Coming out of nearby Johnson High School, he thought he had a shot to play professional hockey.
“To be honest, I thought I was going to go to juniors and play hockey, until my senior season when my coaches pushed me to play football at the next level.” He said.
Indeed, Hendrickson was a standout player and captain on the ice, and like a lot of kids growing up in Minnesota, had dreams of one day playing in the NHL. But once he chose to focus on football, it wasn’t as easy as trading in his visor for a facemask. That first year at Concordia was tough. After redshirting his freshman year he was moved to right tackle. His first task was to add girth to his 215 pound frame.
“I gained 60 pounds, pretty much on the McDonald’s diet. It was the worst kind of weight to gain,” he said. “Then they threw me right in there against Duluth, who won the Division II national championship that year. I wasn’t ready, and I was playing against the top team in D2. It was physically and emotionally hard.”
But the coaches at Concordia saw progress. Enough that after his sophomore year they moved him to left tackle, a key spot in the Golden Bears’ spread attack. That’s when it all started to come together for him.
“The coaches trusted me to the left side on a heavy pass-oriented team. Just that trust factor they had in me gave me the emotional push and led me to believe I could be a dominant left tackle.” He said.
And dominate he did, giving up only the 4 sacks in his two years at LT.
OK, maybe it was even better than that.
“One was really questionable,” he laughed.
And Hendrickson is no one-trick pony. Early in his senior season Concordia saw their top two QB’s go down with injury, forcing them to rely more on their running game.
“There’s no better feeling than protecting your guys’ blind side and having your guys’ trust that you have him, but working with your guard and pulling around the edge, it’s awesome,” he said. “ Man on man, I love the whole run aspect too.”
Recently, Hendrickson participated at the University of Minnesota’s pro day, with scouts from 10 teams in attendance including 8 members of the hometown Vikings personnel. The big guy from the small school didn’t disappoint.
He ran a 5.13 40 year dash. Not bad considering Iowa’s Reily Reiff, widely considered a top 15 pick in this year’s draft, ran a 5.23.
His best time in the 3-cone drill was 7.69 seconds, once again better than Reiff (7.87) and Ohio State’s Mike Adams (7.94), another possible first round pick.
And although he was disappointed in the 20 reps at 225 pounds he put up in the bench press he still surpassed Adam’s 19.
“I know I can do better, I just didn’t go in with the right mindset about it, I guess. I’ve proven in the gym I can do more than 20 reps”
Watching him on tape, working through his drills, he carries 315 pounds well on his huge frame. He moves his feet well and has some fluidity to him. He may not possess the lateral quickness to play the left side in the NFL, but that’s OK with him, as long as he gets the chance.
“I’ll go anywhere and play anything, that’s what I tell my agent every single day,” he said.
And that holds true even if he isn’t selected among the 7 rounds April 26-28.
“If I’m not drafted and I get picked up by someone, I’ll just go prove myself that I should have been drafted,” said Hendrickson, who added that he’s been contacted personally by the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.
Ultimately, he’s hoping to hear his name called while watching the final 4 rounds of the event at a local sports bar with his trainers from Englebert Training Systems and a few other draft hopefuls. He says it would mean more to him than just a chance to earn a living as a football player, much more.
“I’m hopeful of being drafted. I would love it, there would be no bigger joy.” Hendrickson said.
“But I come from a poor high school, where a lot of kids end up on the street. To be drafted… I could be a role model to these kids and say hey, look at me I did well. You can too.”
It’s not unprecedented for a player to rise from such an obscure background to the height of NFL stardom. You may have heard of Jared Veldheer, who was drafted in the 3rd round in 2010 by the Oakland Raiders and is now their starting left tackle. But even Veldheer had considerable buzz about him, and was projected to go as high as he did. Hendrickson wasn’t invited to the scouting combine in Indianapolis, and isn’t even listed in any notable online draft rankings.
Be honest, you’ve never even heard of him, until now.
But that could soon change. Hendrickson’s pedigree is impressive. His approach to the game and his demeanor even more so. I could see him starting on the right side for someone after a year or two, maybe even on the left. I wouldn’t bet against it.
Even though, things like that just aren’t supposed to happen.
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