THE SHOCKING TRUTH BEHIND FOOTBALL'S UNSUNG UNDERDOGS
1. Clay Matthews- Green Bay Packers (2009-present)
As a star outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, Matthews became the first Packer since RB John Brockington to earn Pro Bowl recognition in his first three seasons and the only player in Packers history to score a touchdown in his first three seasons. He is known as one of the most dynamic and versatile defenders in the NFL today.
Walk on Story: Matthews walked on to the University of Southern California football team under coach Pete Carroll in 2004. He played on the scout team for his first two seasons until he earned an athletic scholarship in 2006. However, Matthews needed to gain size and improve his speed before he could get any real playing time on the field. He played reserve linebacker behind teammate Brian Cushing until his senior year. Matthews finally “grew into himself” and got the starting linebacker position where he developed into an essential asset to the team. Matthews finished his career by earning second-team All-Pac 10 honors and a first round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2009.
2. Santana Moss- Washington Redskins (2005-present), New York Jets (2001-2004)
Moss, currently a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, has proven his exploding ability in the National Football League with his seven consecutive seasons as a starter. It was his first season with the Redskins though that skyrocketed his career. Noted as his best professional season, Moss had the second highest reception record in the NFL with 84 for 1,483 yards. In 2005, Moss was selected to his first NFL Pro Bowl.
Walk on Story: Known as one of the most accomplished wide receivers in the University of Miami’s history, Moss started as a walk-on in 1997. He was awarded an athletic scholarship after the third game in his first season as a Hurricane football player. He went on to break the Hurricane’s record for receiving yards (2,546) and finished his 2000 senior season with 1,604 all-purpose yards. Moss received All-Big East Conference honors and was recognized as a First-Team All-American. In 2001, he was a first round pick by the New York Jets.
3. Jordy Nelson- Green Bay Packers (2008-present)
Nelson, a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, has proven his skill at the professional level. Nelson finished his 2011-2012 season with his career high in touchdowns (15), receptions (68), and receiving yards (1,263). He was a Super Bowl Champion in 2011.
Walk on Story: Nelson began his career as a walk-on at Kansas Sate University. As a redshirt, he watched his team win the Big 12 championship in 2003. He was named to the Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2005. But it wasn’t until his senior year when he made a name for himself. In 2007, he made First-team All-Big 12 and given consensus All-American honors. Nelson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
4. Jordan Kovacs- University of Michigan (2008-2012)
Kovacs is known as a true underdog who emerged from the University of Michigan’s “Walk On Nation.” Playing as a safety for the Wolverines for the last four years, he now serves as the 2012 team captain and was named 2012 All-Big Ten Second Team Selection. On November 27, he was named a finalist for the Bulsworth Trophy, an award given to an outstanding college walk-on.
Walk on Story: Kovacs attended Clay High School where he was a three-year letterman player in football. Despite this success, Division 1 schools showed little interest. He decided to walk on to the University of Michigan’s team but did not make the 2008 roster due to a torn meniscus. After watching the season from the stands, Kovacs was determined to be on the 2009-2010 Wolverines team. His goal was made and he walked on in 2009. He finished his first season as the second best tackler for the Wolverines and made the All-Big Ten Conference Honorable Mention.
5. Darren Woodson- Dallas Cowboys (1992-2004)
Described as “one of the hardest hitters in the NFL” by Sports Illustrated, Woodson was a 3-Time Super Bowl Champion with the Dallas Cowboys. Woodson became one of the best safeties in the NFL being selected to 5 Pro Bowls and 3 All-Pro teams. He was the first Cowboy since Cliff Harris to be chosen to consecutive Pro Bowls. In 2001, he won the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award.
Walk on Story: Woodson walked on at Arizona State University as an undersized linebacker under coach Lovie Smith. As a three-year starter at outside linebacker for the Sun Devils, Woodson earned Honorable Mentions All-American honors as a junior and All-Pac 10 second team as a senior. The team captain was inducted into Arizona State University Hall of Fame in 2005 and was inducted into Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. The Cowboys drafted Woodson in the 2nd round of the 1992 NFL Draft.
6. Karl Mecklenburg- Denver Broncos (1983-1994)
During Mecklenburg’s twelve-year career with the Denver Broncos, he played his way to six Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl appearances with the Denver Broncos. In 2001, he was inducted into the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
Walk on Story: As a walk-on on Minnesota’s football team he beat the odds and went on to become a 2-time second team All-Big Ten selection. In 1982, he received the Carl Eller Award for the Gopher’s outstanding defensive player of the year. Mecklenburg was drafted to the Broncos in the 12th round of the NFL draft in 1983.