Does a NFL Player Have to go to College?

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The National Football League (NFL) does not require its players to have college football experience but almost all of them do. It’s the best way for aspiring football pros to impress NFL scouts by showing their capabilities to play on an NFL team. According to the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), the governing body of college football, the NFL drafts one out of every 50 college football players each year.

However, for players with no college football experience, the draft odds fall to one in 1250. Although those chances are very low, they are not zero. The NFL has picked up football players who had never played a down in college but somehow managed to impress the right people at the right time in the NFL. Here’s an introduction to five fortunate NFL players:

Antonio Gates

Gates played a college sport. It just wasn’t football. He played college basketball for four years but a professional basketball career was not in his cards. So Gates turned to the NFL and the San Diego Chargers took him in even though the tight end had not played on the gridiron since his last year in high school.

Eric Swann

Academic issues dashed Swann’s plans to attend North Carolina State University. Consequently, his football career set off on a rather unorthodox path. After playing for a semi-professional football team, Swan entered the 1991 NFL draft where he was quickly chosen by the Phoenix Cardinals in the first round.

Vince Papale

Known as the inspiration behind the biopic “Invincible,” Papale received a track scholarship to attend Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia where he excelled at pole vaulting and the long jump. After graduating, Papale played on a semi-professional team, and his performance caught the attention of Dick Vermeil and the Philadelphia Eagles. Joining the Eagles as the oldest NFL rookie at age 30, Papale played wide receiver and special teams for two years until a shoulder injury ended his career.

Ray Seals

Seals probably became the most successful football player to never have attended college after he started for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.  The defensive end went from playing on a semi-professional team to playing eight seasons of NFL football for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers.

Darren Bennett

The Australian-born punter asked the San Diego Chargers for a tryout while he happened to be honeymooning in California. Bennett wowed the Chargers enough that he was given a place on the team, although he didn’t become the Chargers regular punter until about two years later. Bennett had played Australian rules football for twelve years before joining the Chargers but he had not gone to college before playing in the NFL. Bennett had a number of very good seasons that resulted in several invitations to start in Pro Bowls.

These five players proved that college football isn’t the only stepping stone to a NFL career. Three of these five players never went to college and two didn’t play football in college, but all of them went on to lucrative professional football careers. Any extremely lucky and talented football player can begin an NFL career as soon as they are three years removed from their high school graduation date, even if they haven’t played college football.


NCAA:  Estimated Probability of Competing in Athletics Beyond the High School Interscholastic Level

MadeMan:  5 NFL Players That Did Not Go to College

Draft Site:  NFL Draft Rules

Suasn writes about NFL at allpro her blog.

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