Drafted: 3rd round, 91 overall
Notable: Second-team All-SEC pick after leading team in tackles in 2010; graduated from Georgia in December with a degree in housing.
Even for those blessed with the talent to get there, the journey to the NFL is an arduous one for any athlete. Akeem Dent can testify to that.
The former Georgia Bulldog didn't even make the team during his freshman year at Douglass High School in Atlanta. Three years later as a senior, he was one of the top linebackers in the country.
Dent, who was selected by the Falcons in the third round of April's draft, spoke with Times sports editor Brent Holloway on Tuesday about his first impressions from training camp, his path to the NFL, and his thoughts on getting the chance to play for his hometown team.
Question: Less than a week into your life as a professional football player, what do you think about the NFL so far?
Answer: Right now, it's just a good feeling to be in this position. I feel like I'm blessed to be here with a great organization. I've got a great group of guys, a great group of veteran linebackers that's willing to help me learn. So I feel good right now.
Q: I know you graduated from Douglass; did you grow up in Atlanta also?
A: Yeah, I grew up right in the heart of the city. I stayed like two minutes from the Georgia Dome, so to get drafted by the Falcons, it's a lifelong dream.
Q: Did you know throughout the draft process that the Falcons were a possibility?
A: No, not really. I met with (linebackers) coach (Glen) Pires at the combine and I had a workout for them, but other that, I didn't know. Every team is a possibility during that time, so you never know what's going to happen, never know how the draft is going to work out.
Q: What was your first thought when you found out it was going to be the Falcons and you were going to get a chance with your hometown team?
A: It was the greatest feeling of my life, man. It's just one of those things where my family's happy because they're right here and they don't have to travel that far for games, so it's just a great, great feeling.
Q: You mentioned the group of linebackers here; it's a pretty established, veteran group. What are your goals coming in as a rookie and what are you picking up from them so far?
A: Mainly, guys like Mike Peterson, Stephen Nicholas, Curtis Lofton, those guys are helping me out in the boardroom and the film room and stuff like that. If I have any questions, I can go ask, and that's been a good thing for me. They've opened their arms up to me and accepted me as a player. Basically, my goal for the year is to just get in where I can. The main thing for me is just to get in on special teams and try to get a job that way.
Q: At Georgia, you got experience at outside linebacker in the 4-3 and inside linebacker in the 3-4. Where do the Falcons have you lining up in their base 4-3 defense?
A: Right now I'm predominantly lined up at the Mike (middle) linebacker. Nothing's etched in stone. I'm just trying to learn what I can as fast as I can.
Q: Going back to how you got to this point in your life, when did you first start playing football?
A: I was in seventh grade when I first started playing ball. I thought I was going to be a basketball player, but when it came down to it, I just started to enjoy playing football more. But actually, in ninth grade I didn't play. In ninth grade I didn't make the team, but I came back out the next year and continued to work hard and try to grind and work my way up.
Q: So how did you go from not making the team to being everybody's All-American by your senior year?
A: It was just hard work and dedication. I had good people around me; my family helped me keep my head on straight. My mom, she's a hard worker and I think I get that from her.
Q: I guess that translates to your career at Georgia, too. You were a part-time starter early on before you really came on as a senior and lead the team in tackles. How did you persevere through any doubts you might have had, and at what point did you think that the NFL might be a realistic part of your future?
A: Really, during my junior year I had a couple of injuries and sat out a couple of games, and I didn't know how things were going to pan out. But I just had to keep my faith and believe that everything happens for a reason and things like that. So I just tried to come back and work hard and leave the impression that the one thing I'm going to always do is work hard as I can. That was just the transition point in my life.