Jacob Flores '16 and Vernon Harris '16 sign with NFL teams
Last Saturday, on a cloudy 50-degree spring day in Hanover, Jacob Flores ’16 nervously waited for a phone call that he had been hoping to receive his entire life. He decided to go to church to find solace in this time of nervous anticipation.
“It was Saturday night and I was actually at Aquinas House,” Flores said. “I was just so nervous watching the draft that I went to church and I just sat there to gather myself. I sat in the back so in case my phone buzzed I could easily walk out and take the call.”
Then, Flores’ phone did ring and, anticipating it was from an NFL team, he eagerly answered the call as he pictured his football career progressing past college.
“I was waiting and waiting and then my phone buzzed,” Flores recalled with a grin on his face. “It was actually my mom and I told her, ‘Mom don’t call me when I am waiting for a phone call.’”
After about another hour or so, Flores finally did receive the call of a lifetime — he was going pro.
“Church went by and at the end I got the phone call from the Green Bay Packers scout who had seen me at our pro-day,” Flores said. “He told me on the phone, ‘I said we would call you, and we really like your game and your intangibles.’”
Flores, who starred at center for Dartmouth during a decorated four-year career for the Big Green, then received a call from his agent who told him it was a done deal. Now, it was time to celebrate and share the news with his friends and family.
“I started calling and FaceTiming everyone in my family,” Flores said. “My siblings and parents were crying. It was really cool and just surreal how quickly it happened and I am so grateful to now have this opportunity.”
This is a scene that has become a regular occurrence in recent weeks here at Dartmouth, with a grand total of eight players having opportunities to compete with professional franchises. Cornerback Vernon Harris ’16 signed with the Kansas City Chiefs while a group of players earned tryouts from several NFL teams — defensive back Troy Donahue ’15 with the Denver Broncos, receiver Ryan McManus ’15 with the New England Patriots, defensive end Cody Fulleton ’16 with the Seattle Seahawks, defensive lineman AJ Zuttah ’16 with the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons and finally, quarterback Dalyn Williams ’16 will work out for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals. Additionally, speedy cornerback Chai Reece ’15 survived the first round of cuts at the Canadian Football League Free Agent Camp.
According to cornerback David Caldwell ’16, what set Flores and Harris a cut above was their ability to play at a high level on a day-in and day-out basis.
“I think what really made both players so special was the combination of athleticism and consistency,” Caldwell said. “From playing behind Vernon on defense last year, his athleticism and measurables put him in an elite class, but his ability to consistently use that athleticism to execute on the field sets him apart as well.”
Head coach Buddy Teevens ’79, who led Dartmouth to a share of the Ivy League title this past season, lauded the on-the-field exploits of all of these players but believes it is the rare blend of physical prowess and mental sharpness that makes Dartmouth players so attractive to professional teams.
“They are all highly intelligent guys,” Teevens said. “Scouts have an intelligence test and they are always surprised with just how sharp our guys are. They are all tremendous leaders who are independent thinkers that will do the right thing. They will be good teammates and that is something that NFL teams want.”
For Flores and all of these standouts, getting into a camp is certainly an accomplishment. However, making the 53-man regular season roster is the ultimate goal.
“Right now NFL teams are allowed to have 90 guys on the roster,” Flores said. “So the goal is to make the 53-man roster and hopefully contribute and help out any way I can this year. It’s a great opportunity so I have to make the most out of it and work as hard as I can.”
Teevens thinks that the number of Dartmouth players who are getting looks from professional teams speaks volumes about the trajectory of the program.
“I think it’s a very positive statement that guys can come to an Ivy League institution and take both their academic and athletic pursuits very seriously,” Teevens said. “We push that aggressively in the recruiting process. We like guys who have aspirations of competing for as long as they can in the sport.”
Dartmouth hosted the most number of scouts out of any Ivy League programs its pro-day on April 2. When asked whether this would help future recruiting classes, Teevens responded unequivocally.
“Without question,” Teevens said. “We had 23 NFL scouts in for our pro-day, which is by far the most of anyone in our league, and our players know that, the recruits know that and moms and dads know that.
Flores, who was a member of the All-Ivy League First Team and All-New England Team this year, credited Teevens and his coaching staff for creating a culture in which student athletes have the opportunity to flourish and have a chance to play at the next level.
“Coach Teevens and his staff have done a great job recruiting the type of players that may have a shot to get to the NFL and that in turn helps Dartmouth as a whole,” Flores said. “It’s a great step for the program.”
The Dartmouth football team is coming off one of its most successful seasons in recent memory, and if the interest by NFL teams in Dartmouth players is any indication, the future looks bright in Hanover.