Undrafted prospect still on hold in lockout limbo

May 10 2011 - 3:55pm

IRVING, Texas -- As much as he wishes it weren't true, Jake Kirkpatrick acknowledges not a lot has changed in the last week.

He still shuttles back and forth between his hometown of Tyler, Texas, and Dallas, pursuing a dream that has yet to be realized. He still lifts weights and hones his blocking technique, hoping the hard work he's done has not been for naught. And he still feels those occasional pangs of anxiety, unsure of what his future holds.

"It's always stressful," Kirkpatrick said. "I try not to worry about it too much."

But sometimes Kirkpatrick can't suppress his concerns. He has bills to pay, and he's raising a 3-month-old daughter.

An accomplished center who played for TCU's undefeated team in 2010, he sat through all seven rounds of the NFL draft last month. Among the 254 names called, Kirkpatrick's wasn't one of them.

It was a disheartening experience, he said. But it's one that could have been forgotten within hours if he had the opportunity to pursue a job as a free agent. Right now, Kirkpatrick doesn't because teams are forbidden to sign players during a lockout that has brought the league's business to a standstill.

"It's kind of dragged out for us guys in limbo," Kirkpatrick said. "But I can't do anything about it."

No one can -- not even the Cowboys, who are usually active bargain hunters this time of year.

In the recent past, the Cowboys have found some major contributors among undrafted college players. The most notable are quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Miles Austin -- Pro Bowlers whose current worth is considerably greater than their initial value.

But Romo and Austin are not alone. Of the 62 players on the Cowboys' active roster and injured reserve list, 14 joined the team as rookie free agents.

While many of them share low profiles and do yeoman's work that often goes unnoticed, others, like defensive back/return man Bryan McCann and defensive end Stephen Bowen, have distinguished themselves.

In fact, punter Matt McBriar was one of 23 undrafted players who participated in last season's Pro Bowl. He and quarterback Jon Kitna began their careers as rookie free agents -- McBriar with Denver and Kitna with Seattle.

Such success stories happen frequently enough that the Cowboys devote considerable resources toward finding leftover talent at low prices after the draft.

"An important part of our acquisition of personnel is the college free-agent process," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said before the draft.

"So that is something we always focus on, and I have a lot of confidence there is going to be another good class."

For the foreseeable future, Jones and his team of scouts will have plenty of time to forecast the trajectories of undrafted prospects like Notre Dame defensive tackle Ian Williams, Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel, Oklahoma State defensive end Ugo Chinasa, Auburn running back Mario Fannin and, of course, Kirkpatrick.

In early April, Kirkpatrick met with the Cowboys on Dallas Day -- an invitation-only workout for college players with local ties. Kirkpatrick tried out at guard, attempting to impress the Cowboys with his versatility.

He was hopeful teams would consider his outstanding credentials and intelligence while overlooking his less than optimal 6-2 stature and short arms.

Kirkpatrick began playing football as a senior at Tyler Lee High School and won the 2010 Rimington Award, presented to the top college center in the nation. But as one round in the NFL draft dissolved into the next, Kirkpatrick's doubts began to surface.

He knew if he wasn't selected, he would have to wait an indefinite period before he could realize his dream. And when the final pick was made, he was overcome by a sinking feeling. The NFL is on hold, and so is he.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Kirkpatrick said. "But I know God has a plan. I'm just excited to see how it all works out. Hopefully, I will be able to get a job soon."

Until then, he's on standby like everyone else in the NFL.

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