That is one of the ways Austin Droogsma expected to be spending his time this spring.
“I had some concerts planned with some friends that I was gonna go to, just kinda traveling around. Some beach days, some lake days, going out on the river fishing with my buddies,” Droogsma said. “I’ve been talking with a few guys about going on a hog hunt down in central Florida. Stuff like that. Just having fun.
“Nothing even close to what this was.”
“This” was an invitation to attend an NFL rookie mini-camp to try and become a professional football player. Appropriately, it came from the New York Giants — where hog-mollie loving general manager Dave Gettleman has spent a nearly a year and a half now looking under every rock in an effort to improve the Giants’ offensive line.
To find Droogsma the Giants had to turn over a pretty big boulder.
Listed at 6-foot-4, 345 pounds (more on that later), Droogsma didn’t play college football. He was a highly-recruited offensive guard coming out of Gulf Breeze High School, but after potential football scholarships with Florida State, Clemson and Mississippi State fell through he turned his attention to his “other” athletic endeavor — the shot put.
Droogsma ended up accepting a track and field scholarship to Florida State, and became one of the country’s better collegiate shot putters.
He never thought about returning to football ... until the Giants called him.
“Not at all. Not at all,” said Droogsma. “I was planning on just kinda living my life for a year and then starting the process, going through the academy to become a police officer.”
Instead, he is trying to learn to become an NFL offensive lineman, trying to learn to impede the mountainous men who line up across from him.
Droogsma said it was “blindsiding” to get a call from the Giants, specifically from Charles Tisch of the Giants’ Football Operations Department.
Droogsma said he was “cruisin’ down a back road” after having lunch with a friend when he got a call from Tisch asking him if he would be interested in attending rookie mini-camp. Droogsma said he “thought somebody was messing with me.”
“I was waiting for him to ask me for my credit card,” Droogsma said.
Once he figured out no one was messing with him, that the New York Giants really wanted to see if he could be a professional football player, Droogsma accepted the offer. The concerts, fishing excursions and hog-hunting were going to have to wait.
He had less than two weeks to dust off his football skills and prepare for the mini-camp. When it was done, though, the Giants signed him to their 90-man roster.
“I guess I showed ‘em enough to at least keep me around for a longer look,” he said.
How did this happen, anyway?
Droogsma still isn’t clear on the details. He still has questions about how it all went down. He said all he knows is the Giants have “some kind of database” that tracks athletes who were recruited to play college football but never did, instead choosing another sport.
Per the Giants, that database is an in-house one maintained by the team’s Football Operations Department that flagged Droogsma as an athlete worth taking a look at.
“I’m trying to make the most of the opportunity and just giving myself the best shot and trying to put myself in the best situation that I can,” Droogsma said.
Can he really do this?
A handful of players have had successful NFL careers despite never playing college football. Nate Ebner played rugby and has had a seven-year career with the New England Patriots. So, it’s not impossible.
Droogsma is enjoying being back in football, but that doesn’t mean fully making the transition is going to be easy.
“It’s a lot of fun. There’s always going to be the ups and downs,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t necessarily belong because sometimes I just get so lost on things. The more in-depth details that are going to take more time for me to learn, things like that. I kinda feel like I’m getting left behind in that sense.”
Droogsma was a left guard in high school and that is where he has been lining up for the Giants.
Athletes practice their crafts to develop muscle memory, to develop the ability to react during games without having to think about what they need to do. Droogsma, obviously, does not have that muscle memory in football, though he believes it as “attainable.”
“It’s just going to take me a few weeks to really settle in and get the hang of this,” he said.
Droogsma said that right now his challenge is more mental than physical simply because of how much he has to learn.
“[It’s] physically demanding because I’m just moving my body in different ways that I haven’t had to in years. Kind of re-training myself to do that, and doing different workouts that are geared more towards what we’re doing on the field as opposed to what I was doing for shot put in college,” Droogsma said.
“The mental aspect is just being in the book, trying to learn and trying to get as much stuff as I can as quickly as I can so that I get caught up. The mental aspect of it inhibits my physical ability because if I’m thinking too much out on the field I’m not going to be able to be playing at full speed.”
Becoming a football player again
Droogsma is dealing with the complexities of an NFL play book, to the point of learning when to go left or right so that he doesn’t bang into the center and “look like an idiot on tape.”
He is also in the process of re-shaping his body. He signed with the Giants weighing nearly 350 pounds, but they want him to be in the vicinity of 320-325 pounds. He’s down to 340 and working with the Giants training staff to take off the weight.
He believes that right now he can “hang in” with some of the less-established players based purely on athleticism.
He said he wants to reach the weight goal and get a better grasp on the playbook and the techniques he is required to execute and that he hopes by training camp that he will be able to “unleash what I feel is my full athletic potential.”
Droogsma said he does believe his shot put training translates to blocking football players in some ways.
“Footwork, hip rotation, ankle rotation, being able to flip my hips out and get out and run … keeping my weight back, keeping my balance all comes into play. They’re very similar in that sense,” he said.
“Keeping a good center of gravity and having good balance are very, very crucial in both sports.”
Droogsma said he has been getting a lot of “good, constructive criticism” from coaches that he knows is geared toward “making you better and helping you learn.” He was happy that at Tuesday’s OTA he heard a couple of “good jobs” from coaches.
He called that “a big step in the right direction.”
Droogsma knows there will have to be many more steps in the right direction if he is going to turn his “once in a lifetime opportunity” into a real job.
“It goes back to the ‘do I belong here’ kind of thing,” he said. “At the same time they wouldn’t have brought me in if they didn’t see the potential for me to contribute. I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t think that I could be something.”
Will this unusual hog hunt by the Giants pay off in the end by uncovering a useful player? Droogsma seems as curious as the Giants are.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting and really fun time,” he said.