In the past couple of months, Justin Roper has been on quite an emotional roller coaster, and the worst part of it all is he still knows he has no control over his football future.
Roper, a 2006 Buford High graduate, was served a double whammy when he went undrafted after a solid senior season throwing for 1,885 yards at the University of Montana in 2010. Instead of getting a chance to hop on with an NFL club as a free agent, he’s left in limbo just like everyone else with the current league lockout and no certainty of a 2011 season.
“I just have to remind myself to be patient,” said Roper, who passed for 3,788 yards in his college career between Oregon and Montana. “All I can really control is my side of things.”
Nick Claytor can relate to Roper’s experience. After foregoing his senior season at Georgia Tech, Claytor, a Gainesville High grad and two-year starter on the Yellow Jackets’ offensive line, also went undrafted. His day-to-day routine this summer is centered around being ready for the call from a club once the lockout ends and finishing his degree in business management at Georgia Tech.
“Since I’m trying to play in the NFL, that needs to be the center of everything I do right now,” said Claytor, who works at a gym and with a trainer near his family in Gwinnett County. “I’m just trying to be prepared.”
It’s clear there is no solid ground for a player to stand on when college football is in the rear view mirror and a pro career is still just a dream.
The good thing for Roper is that he has friends in the same position. Now living back in his hometown of Buford, Roper gets together regularly to throw with former Georgia standouts Kris Durham and Shaun Chapas, who were both drafted in April but the same amount of stability. On Thursday, they got together with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and threw at Northview High in John’s Creek.
The lockout made Claytor’s and Roper’s resolve to play in the league greater. Claytor is training four hours each day, along with taking a statistical management and biology course to complete his degree. Since Roper left Montana in December, he trained for two months leading up to the draft at Velocity Sports Performance in San Diego with quarterback coach George Whitefield and future No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton — an acquaintance of Roper’s since high school.
“It was a great experience training there,” Roper said. “I learned a lot about being a quarterback and fundamentals needed to play in the NFL.
“I also found where I want to retire.”
However, that’s when the real ups and downs started for Roper. After leaving San Diego and hoping to attend the NFL combine, he only received two of the necessary three scout recommendations to attend the week-long event in Indianapolis. Then, he felt like he’d finally found his golden opportunity to compete at the University of Georgia’s Pro Day in Athens on March 22, but he was informed by a scout that he didn’t get the appropriate clearance to participate. Roper says he met the requirements to throw, which included having the approval of Bulldogs’ coach Mark Richt and living within 50 miles of the venue. He was excited to participate in Athens since scouts would see him throwing to A.J. Green (a first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals) and Durham (a third-round pick by Seattle).
With the communication breakdown, Roper was forced to sit in the Bulldogs’ locker room until the issue was resolved. Even though he was eventually cleared to throw, Roper said he missed valuable time interacting with scouts prior to throwing during position work, agility testing and running drills — all strengths that the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Roper possesses.
“The film can lie to an extent,” Roper said. “I really missed out on that running and agility to show what I could do for the scouts.”
Now that the NFL lockout is nearing 100 days, Claytor and Roper are both locked in a holding pattern: workout, train, run and wait on the suits to clear up the dispute over a collective bargaining agreement.
Roper said that the longer the lockout continues, the more likely a team will opt for a veteran free agent instead of signing an unproven rookie. Playing a season of arena league football is also an option Roper has considered.
As for Claytor, he hasn’t had any contact with an arena league team. However, his business degree will open up doors and as a last resort he would consider an internship or get a job in a bank.
“But that’s boring stuff, I want to play football,” Claytor said.