If that doesn’t work, then take a lesson from Gary Wilkins.
Wilkins is one of 75 players at the Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp looking to earn a spot with the green and white when the season opens on June 15 against the Toronto Argonauts.
Unlike most players at main camp, the 25-year-old’s path had a few more bumps along the way. That’s because this is Wilkins’ third attempt at making the Riders.
“Well, you know third year, third time’s a charm,” Wilkins said with a chuckle. “Came out last year, did good at mini camp, came up here, was doing good through training camp, tore my ACL.”
That misfortune contributed to Wilkins gaining a reputation as one of the noteworthy players the past few off-seasons that hasn’t played a down for the Roughriders.
The native of Decatur, Georgia showed promise in his first mini-camp with Saskatchewan in 2016, but the team opted to not invite him to main camp. That was when Wilkins had to get creative if he was ever to realize his dreams of playing professional football.
“At one point, I was working at (Dick’s Sporting Goods), I drove Uber, substitute teacher, I’ve taught special education,” he said of his jobs since that first mini-camp with the Riders.
“The whole time it never crossed my mind (if) was I going to stop playing or not.”
Persistence is what carried him through the roster rejections.
The Oakland Raiders signed him to a contract fresh out of college in 2015 but cut him before the regular season. Then after the Riders cut him from mini-camp in 2016, he took on some workouts with Arena Football League teams. None of them signed Wilkins either.
Tearing his ACL at training camp last year was the latest detour on his path to the pros. It also gave Wilkins’ a new daily routine.
Wake up at 7 a.m., go train, go to rehab, go to work, prepare the next day’s meals at 11:30 p.m. and repeat.
That’s music to defensive line coach Ed Phillion’s ears.
“That’s what you’re looking for, a guy that’s willing to put the time in and to learn,” Phillion said. “He’s just trying to improve his game. He’s trying to fill his tool box up with things that he can work with.”
Wilkins showed that workhorse mentality during his collegiate days at Furman University.
He played weak-side and middle linebacker during his first two years before moving to defensive end for his final two seasons at the school. Wilkins finished his final season with 76 tackles, eight sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, good enough to become a third-team All-American.
On a defence that likes to line up three lineman and rotate personnel often, that ability to play multiple positions could be a major factor in making the team.
“The smarter the player, the better off we can be,” Phillion said. “He can basically play seven different positions.”
“You gotta be interchangeable and those (versatile) guys allow us to do it.”
Communication lines were always open throughout the last three years of attempting to crack the roster. Wilkins is grateful for the support.
“Coach (Chris Jones) and the staff have been really supportive with me getting rehab and getting back down for mini-camp this year,” he said. “Went down there, did my thing, so back here again — linebacker, rush end — wherever they want to play me.”
Although Wilkins has been down this road before — only to have his dreams dashed by an injury– he never wavered for a moment. He took every failure as a challenge and got back to where he wants to be, competing for a spot on a professional football team.
After all, Phillion doesn’t think the stars need to align for Wilkins to make the team on his third try.
“Gary could be a big part of our football team. I really like what he brings.”