Matt Kauffman was sitting in church when his prayers were finally answered.
One day after his name wasn’t called in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Towson University offensive lineman and York Suburban High School graduate got a text message from his agent, while in church, that the New Orleans Saints invited him to the team’s rookie minicamp.
The 6-foot, 5-inch, 309-pound Kauffman watched all three days of the draft, as he always had, but this year was different, with his name among the players hoping to land with an NFL team. When the draft concluded, and he wasn’t signed by a team in the hours afterwards, Kauffman thought his dream was over.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions” Kauffman said. “I thought after (the draft ended) if you didn’t get a call, it was done.”
Meanwhile, York Catholic High graduate and Saint Francis University (Pennsylvania) safety Hakeem Kinard received a similar text message from his agent with similar news. Kinard said his agent talked to the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Tampa Bay was the only team that offered him a minicamp invitation.
Between the beautiful weather, and the York connections of Bucs' head coach Bruce Arians, who played for York Catholic and graduated from York High, Kinard was excited for the opportunity and didn’t want to leave Flordia once he stepped off the plane.
“I saw the palm trees and I loved it,” the 5-10, 200-pound Kinard said. “I was ready to go.”
Unfortunately for Kauffman and Kinard, neither minicamp invitation resulted in an NFL contract, but neither player is ready to give up on his pro football dreams.
Adjusting to NFL speed: Both players said the camps were a lot like NCAA practices, but much more fast-paced. They practiced from Friday to Sunday and spent time in meetings with their position coaches.
Kinard said during his film sessions, the coaches told him that he was playing well and graded some of his plays as A-plus work.
Known as a big hitter, Kinard couldn’t showcase his ability to force fumbles and make big tackles because the practices were held with just helmets and no pads, so tackling wasn’t allowed.
He said he held down his responsibilities but lacked the key forced turnover that could’ve got him signed.
“I feel like I did my job, I just didn’t make that big play to really stand out,” Kinard said.
Battling former NFL players: With the Saints, Kauffman was asked to play an entirely different position than he had in college. When he looked at the depth chart, Kauffman, who played right tackle during his five years at Towson, was listed as a left guard.
Kauffman practiced playing both tackle and guard positions after the season ended to make himself more versatile and attractive to NFL teams, but had no in-game experience.
To add to that challenge, Kauffman lined up against former NFL and Alliance of American Football players, including 2013 NFL first-round pick Sylvester Williams, who was signed by the Saints following the camp.
“I thought I held my own and did pretty well,” said Kauffman, who was a First Team All-Colonial Athletic Association pick last season.
Looking for opportunities: While both players left the camp without NFL contracts, they both plan to continue pursuing pro football careers, while preparing for life after football.
While he waits to hear from the XFL or the Canadian Football League, Kinard will begin a career as a filmmaker. He graduated with a degree in digital media and strategic communication and likes to make crime-based short films dealing with social issues.
He plans to work with real estate firms and film weddings, or work as a production assistant to begin a career making films after football.
Kinard was named to the STATS Football Championship Subdivision All-America Third Team after a senior season where the safety had 57 tackles, nine passes defended and two interceptions.
For Kauffman, he was invited to the XFL Summer Showcase tryouts in Tampa Bay, Florida, on June 29. He said that his agent had contact with CFL teams, but besides not having a passport, Kauffman didn’t want to be locked into a contract if an injury created an NFL opportunity for him.
Kauffman is working on a master’s degree in marketing from Towson after graduating with a degree in economics. He recently applied for two marketing jobs and is excited for the opportunity to participate in the XFL Summer Showcase later this month and show teams he can play at a high level.
Kinard said the hardest part of the process is waiting to hear back from teams while trying to plan your future and find a job. But he is realistic and knows how difficult it can be to achieve a career in the NFL.
“It’s a cold business, but that’s (the type of business) were in,” Kinard said.
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.