The introductory mini-camp for rookies has always offered a surplus of stories ranging from star-studded arrivals to just plain survival. From early round draft picks still beaming from the promise of millions and the glitz of Radio City Music Hall to those who were invited out for a shot at chasing their dream of playing in the NFL.
For Josue Ortiz-Santana, an undrafted DE/DT from Harvard, his reality is the latter.
At 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds Ortiz-Santana was invited out by Jets linebacker coach Mike Smith after the team attended his Pro Day and saw him perform at the team’s practice facility for the regional combine. He has accepted the tall task of having three days to impress Jets personnel while adjusting to a new position — a pass-rushing strong side linebacker.
“It’s a bit of an adjustment where I played DE/DT at Harvard, so there’s a bit of a curve. But some of the veteran guys like Eddie Jones have been showing me the ropes,” Ortiz-Santana said.
Looking every bit like an intimidating NFL pass rusher, Ortiz-Santana has a pro-like brawn to match his Ivy League brain. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in Economics, not unlike fellow Crimson alum and current New York Knick Jeremy Lin. It’s easy to draw parallels between the two — the Ivy League background, undrafted underdog label, earning their way to league based off work ethic and hustle as opposed to reputation. Instead of bunking up on a fellow teammate’s couch, Ortiz-Santana shared his eight-by-3 locker with another Jets hopeful. Although the two were not close in their time together at Cambridge (Lin was one year ahead Ortiz-Santana), he finds solace in his supernova-esque burst to stardom.
“He’s definitely someone to look for inspiration – being undrafted and getting cut a couple of times only to explode on the scene. That’s what it’s all about in the business – being ready to seize your chance when it presents itself. You got to keep knocking on the door until you get your foot in and break through,” he said.
Before the Linsanity swept a nation, Lin was in search of an opportunity in a sea of uncertainty. For Ortiz-Santana, the situation is no different. “I’m just playing it by ear right now,” he said when asked about his immediate future. After Jets rookie camp, Ortiz-Santana plans to head to the Chicago Bears rookie camp and then see if a team signs him or invites him out for training camp.
For second-round draft choice Stephen Hill, it’s more about the when than the if. When will he be a starter? When will he catch his first touchdown? When will he become that elite top-flight receiver? Relieved of the anxiety of simply making the team, the biggest concern for the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket is to go Beamer, Benz or Bentley.
While players like Ortiz-Santana are all business during the three-day camp session, Hill made sure to soak up the NFL spotlight — sporting an ear-to-ear smile as reporters and TV cameras flocked to him. After all, what’s not to smile about? He just signed a four-year deal with $2.7 million in guarantees and his coach has already likened him to one of the game’s more intimidating receivers, Calvin Johnson.
He answered questions about how he expects to be used during the season instead of how to make a name for himself.
“I’m in more of an offense where I can catch the ball a little bit more. And you know, catching the ball from Mark Sanchez is great,” Hill said. Answers like those are a luxury that players like Ortiz-Santana can’t afford. Not right now, at least.
Evidently on cloud nine without a foreseeable care in the world, Hill was free to go out and ball — which he did — and had a fun time fulfilling his childhood dream — which he also did. On the field his size and speed alone had everyone in attendance dropping their jaws in awe as he plucked every ball thrown his way out of the air. Off the field Hill’s charismatic personality and apparent love of the limelight was ever-present. Born in 1991, he playfully told reporters twice his age that he’s “old school” after humming along to the melodic tunes of Teddy Pendergrass from his iPod — his infectious smile visible from any point of the locker room.
On the other side of the Jets locker room while Hill exuded jubilation, Ortiz-Santana quietly sat on the stool in front of the locker he’s sharing — no more than 30 yards separated from each other. But as Hill preps for his life as an everyday NFL player, Ortiz-Santana prays to have a similar feeling of security.
“It is tough. All you can really do is give your best effort. It’s really about putting in the effort and looking mentally sharp and hustling your way into a spot,” he said.