Pair of Wildcats trying to make it as Cardinals
Grabbing one of the coveted spots is tough, but doing so as a player who not one team thought was worth drafting in April can be even more challenging.
That is the issue facing former Arizona Wildcats Paul Vassallo and Gino Crump, as each is trying to make the roster after college careers that were solid, but not spectacular by any means.
A receiver, Crump didn't even make much of an impact in Tucson as a receiver until his senior year, when he caught 65 passes for 610 yards and two touchdowns. Still, he was overshadowed by Raiders draft pick Juron Criner last season, and rarely was his team's top option.
"I actually was the number one receiver for like a week," Crump joked, "but I just try to come out here and show the coaches that I'm ready to work and that I deserve to be here."
Both players have had to adapt to a faster, more physical brand of football as well as learn an entirely new playbook, which is what Vassallo said is the most difficult part of the transition from college to the pros.
"Just learning a whole new language in about six weeks can be difficult," he said.
It has to be especially challenging when the knowledge that any little mistake could lead to being released, which is simply the reality undrafted rookie free agents face. Vassallo and Crump aren't the first players to go through the process, and they certainly won't be the last.
So, they just continue to work hard.
"The odds are stacked against you, but you just try to come in and fight every day, show the coaches you are worthy of a spot on the team," Crump said.
For Crump, that means emerging from what may be the most talented position the Cardinals have, as their depth at wide receiver is as talked about as it is real.
That doesn't scare him.
"I come out here and there's a lot of great guys out here at the wide receiver position, but just me as a competitor, I just come out and try to be the best," he said. "Even though Larry [Fitzgerald] is out here and he obviously all the accolades, I'm still here to compete."
Sometimes, Crump said, that means going against his former teammate.
"It's awesome, because every now and then we come across each other and sometimes I've got to block him," he said of Vassallo. "And then the other day I ran a route and he ended up covering me. He grabbed my jersey, and he and I just kind of had a little moment. I turned and was like ‘come on Paul, what's up? I thought we were boys' but it's pretty fun."
Vassallo agreed, at least with the idea of having Crump around.
"Definitely coming in and having Gino here, it's nice to have a familiar face," Vassallo said. "Just that sense of comfort, so that definitely helped."
Both Crump and Vassallo are also familiar with a couple of their undrafted free agent bretheren, as former ASU Sun Devils Colin Parker and Eddie Elder are practicing on the same field and trying to impress the same coaches.
And though it may be a coincidence (or simply how these things work for rookies), it would appear those coaches are not without a sense of humor with regards to the rivalry.
"I'm actually roommates with both of them right now," Vassallo said of Parker and Elder. "It definitely took a little adjustment, but we make it fun."
Of course, it helps that the Wildcats knocked off the Sun Devils 31-27 the last time they played. Crump scored a touchdown in that game on a play where he seemed to elude half the Sun Devils' defense, and he said it's something he reminded his former rivals about when they first became teammates.
However, Vassallo admitted he's not quite ready to let it go.
"I make sure I bring that up, that we won the last one, and they shut up pretty quick when I say that," he said with a smile.
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