Athletes race toward end goal


Photo by Sam Sargeant

TJ Lee leads the Eagles on to the field during his senior season.

By Sam Deal, Sports Writer

Dec. 21, 2013 marked the end of several EWU football players’ collegiate careers, and kicked off what would be a grueling, four month long process culminating on May 8 with the NFL draft.

Staying focused, working hard and enjoying the moment are a necessity for these athletes as they grind through daily workouts and evaluations all while facing the uncertainty that is earning a spot on a professional roster.

“It’s such a long process. Teams had scouts and you don’t know what they wrote down, who liked you, who didn’t, so you end up just sitting here for weeks at a time not knowing anything. These last couple weeks have been rough, but I just keep telling myself keep working until the draft, keep working until the draft,” said former Eagle and second team all-conference wide receiver Ashton Clark.

Clark is just one of the athletes from Eastern who is facing the tough task not only of moving into professional football, but doing so as a player from a Football Championship Subdivision as opposed to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Players from the championship subdivision make up less than 2 percent of all NFL players.

2013 second team All-Big Sky Conference guard Steven Forgette elaborated on the difficulties of being evaluated coming out of an FCS school.

“We’ve already fought so hard at the FCS level to be respected, but ultimately you kind of get slapped in the face a little during the [draft]  process, all that gets thrown around is the level of talent that we’ve faced,” said Forgette. “You just keep grinding because you know what the ultimate prize would be.”

The ultimate prize of playing professional football means months of struggle and uncertainty, but as long as the last few months have been for these young men, each have found different ways to stay focused on working towards achieving a lifelong goal.

“Once I look at my son, it’s all worth it,” said Anthony Larry, a starting defensive end, who missed the 2012 season due to academics. “After my 2012 year I was ready to throw it all away, but moving back home my son would have followed the same steps I took, I just want to show him there is a different way.”

Larry, who moved to Seattle after the season ended to prepare for the draft, has had multiple private workouts with NFL teams. He said he is happy to play anywhere professionally whether it is in NFL or Canadian Football League in order to provide the best life for his son.

Sources of motivation can be found within each player, but all the hard work and dedication has created an incredible amount of pressure on each of these athletes.

Enjoying the process sometimes gets lost in all the pressure but cherishing the moments keep spirits high.

“Yeah I definitely enjoy it, it’s an opportunity, and not everybody gets to go to this stuff. If everything were to end now, looking back at least I’ve had the opportunity to go prove myself,” said Clark.

Two-time All-American defensive back TJ Lee III looks at the last four months from a very different perspective, cherishing his moments at Eastern while staying grounded and focused when discussing his athletic potential.

“Eastern Washington is the best thing that has ever happened to me, I can’t thank Eastern Washington enough,” said Lee. “I have to stay away from all the talk because it really doesn’t mean anything until you get a check.”

On May 10, the 2014 NFL draft will come to an end and professional teams will begin bringing in players who went undrafted. Wherever EWU’s former top athletes end up they will be prepared and happy to prove that they have the ability to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.

“I don’t know what is going to happen, I just want the opportunity, even if I don’t get drafted I just want the opportunity,” said Larry. “I never thought I’d be in this situation, God blessed me, the plan is just to give my son a better life than I had.”