It’s no secret the odds of making it to the NFL are extremely slim.
According to NCAA research, of the more than 1 million teenagers who participate in high school football, less than 73,000 move on to play in college. Of those college players, spanning all three divisions, just 1.6 percent will continue playing professionally.
So, when former Cal Poly star Chris Brown arrived at a three-day tryout with the Dallas Cowboys earlier this month — fulfilling a lifelong dream — he made sure to appreciate and enjoy each moment.
As one of nine undrafted free agents competing on a tryout basis, Brown went into rookie minicamp eager to prove he belonged. The quarterback-turned-wide receiver made a positive impression during his short stay in Irving, Texas at the Cowboys’ headquarters at Valley Ranch.
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“I think it was more of getting a chance to show them that it didn’t matter what size of school I went to,” said Brown, Cal Poly’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns. “It didn’t matter who we played, it was just more that they recognized that I’ve been playing this game for a long time and that I’ve put a lot of effort and a lot of time and hard work to get to where I am now.”
The transition from navigating a triple-option offense in the Big Sky Conference to running routes and catching passes in an NFL training camp proved challenging. But the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Brown, who grew up in Compton, made the most of his opportunities while adapting to a new position on the fly.
The biggest adjustment, Brown said, was learning different terminology and formations from the wide receiver spot. His athletic ability was never in question, which isn’t particularly surprising given the gaudy statistics he posted as a Mustang, among them two receiving touchdowns.
“My whole thing was don’t drop the ball,” said Brown, who rushed and passed for more than 3,000 yards in his college career. “As long as it came to me, don’t drop it. I did really good with that.”
There was some extra incentive for the group of undrafted free agents to perform well after the Cowboys waived a handful of veteran players midway through training camp. Brown said the players competing on a tryout basis were aware of the potential roster openings, though it didn’t result in any immediate job offerings.
“Coach Jason (Garrett) pulled us all in the room and told us that he wasn’t going to take anybody at that moment,” Brown said. “But to pretty much be by the phone and they’ll be contacting our agents and contacting us if something was to work out.”
Hearing the Dallas coaching staff tell Brown and the rest of the undrafted free agents they were “considered an elite athlete” and deserved to be in an NFL training camp was a satisfying moment years in the making.
“For me,” Brown said, “that was like a culmination of my career.”
Brown also said last week from his home in San Luis Obispo that the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders each expressed interest. He planned to wait for a call from his agent, Jim Miller, who also represents ex-Mustang Nick Dzbunar of the San Diego Chargers, to see where he might go next.
Brown seemed pleased with his performance overall and got some positive feedback from All-Pro Dez Bryant, who has been working out at Valley Ranch and addressed the rookie wide receivers during a position meeting.
“He reached out to me and gave me some words of wisdom in the locker room a couple times,” Brown said. “(Bryant told me) just to respect the process and whatever (is) supposed to be will be.”