It is notoriously difficult to reach the professional level as a college football player, let alone from the Division II level.
On average about one in fifty college football seniors are drafted to the NFL. When you reduce this pool to Division II college athletes, the numbers drop even further. Only five players were drafted out of the Division II level in the 2019 NFL draft. Sixty-six Division II players made it to opening day rosters or practice squads.
Yet, with such a slim chance of making it to the NFL, Ferris football has seemed to earn a slight foothold in the NFL. Currently, five former Bulldogs are on NFL rosters, all of whom have entered the league within the last four years.
These players include former two-time Harlon Hill winner Jason Vander Laan, who quarterbacked the Bulldogs from 2012 to 2015. After transitioning to tight end, he has appeared on 53-man rosters for the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and most recently the New Orleans Saints.
Another player seeing action in the NFL is defensive end Zach Sieler. After a strong career for Ferris in which he was a Harlon Hill nominee, Sieler was the first Bulldog to hear his name called in the NFL Draft. He was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft. After appearing on waivers this past December, Sieler was quickly signed by the Miami Dolphins and received extensive playing time against the Cincinnati Bengals, where he achieved his first career sack and two pass deflections.
Other players on NFL rosters receiving playing time are defensive back and returner Tavierre Thomas, defensive lineman Justin Zimmer and linebacker Brady Sheldon. There are multiple players looking to continue the streak of Bulldogs making their way to the NFL and follow in these players footsteps.
Harlon Hill nominee and GLIAC player of the year Austin Edwards leads the pack. The senior defensive end from Lansing was the team’s defensive leader this past season, scoring 17.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks. At 6-foot5 and 280 pounds, he has the frame to be an NFL contributor. His career at Ferris is somewhat comparable to Zach Sieler’s, with Edwards scoring more sacks in his senior season.
Senior linebacker Avonte Bell is another potential prospect after manning the middle of the defense over the last two seasons. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 235 lbs., Bell led the defense in tackles his senior season with 70 tackles, including 13 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. With the appropriate size and productions, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team take a flyer on the Lansing native.
The final potential pro who could come out of this class is senior quarterback Jayru Campbell. Even after an injury-plagued senior season, Campbell’s 6-foot-5 frame and great running ability may see him able to stick on a roster. It may not be at quarterback, but like what the New Orleans Saints have done with utility player Taysom Hill, Campbell may be able to showcase his athleticism by running, receiving and throwing the ball.
The pre-draft process is still in its infant stages as the NFL is in its postseason play. These players along with other graduating seniors will be working hard to try and achieve the dream of playing in the NFL.