Sports agent Rick Smith of Priority Sports was teaching a seminar last year, when a guy approached him and asked him if he would be interested in taking a look at his brother—a Division II football player.
No one could fault Smith, who has been in the business for 23 years, for saying what came out of his mouth next. “If he can play, the league will find him,” Smith told the guy.
Ninety nine out of 100 times the conversation would have ended there. But it didn’t because the guy’s brother just happened to be Jared Veldheer.
And when Smith viewed the tape of Veldheer, along with fellow agent Mike McCartney, they realized that not only was this guy good, he had the potential to be picked in the top half of the draft.
On paper, Jared Veldheer had all the credentials of being an NFL player—as in a 6-foot-8, 315 pound offensive tackle. But the stigma associated with being a Division II player is always tough to overcome. After all, the last player to have been drafted from his school, Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich., was Nate Johnson, taken in the seventh round by the Steelers in 1980.
If Veldeer goes where he’s slotted to go—in the third round—he’ll be the draft’s most amazing story. Veldheer showed up at Hillsdale (enrollment of 1,300 students) looking to play on the football team, but his eye was on the books.
“I was on the pre-med track,” Veldeer said. “I wanted to go to medical school and be a surgeon.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the operating room.
Veldeer was good. His domination against opponents got him an invite to the Texas vs. the Nation, a college senior all-star game that pits the top players from Texas against those that hail from every other state. It was there where Veldheer showed he could play against Division I talent.
“At first the game seemed fast, but as the week of practices went on, I was able to more than keep up with what was coming at me,” Veldheer said.
The came the invite to the combine.
Smith sent Veldheer to D1 Sports Training in Nashville, where he honed his skills with Brad Hopkins, a 13-year NFL veteran at left tackle.
When Veldheer showed up in Indianapolis for the Combine, there was nothing Division II about him. He ran the fastest three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttles of all the offensive lineman and came in fourth in the 40-yard dash with a time of 5.09 seconds.
“When people slap the Division II label on you, you kind of play with a chip on your shoulder,” Veldheer said. “And that’s how I’ve played and how I’ve acted over the last couple months.”
And teams are serious about Veldheer—he has worked out in front of six teams, including the Giants, 49ers, Eagles and Broncos.
If Veldheer is selected in the third round, he won’t immediately be a rich man. Guaranteed money will fall somewhere in the $400,000 to $700,000 range, Smith said. But his story of getting drafted that high ahead of the likes of players from the biggest Division I schools will make up one of the draft’s best stories.
Veldheer said isn’t nervous for tonight. He’ll be surrounded by friends and family at his home in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“I have broad expectations,” Veldheer said. “It feels surreal, but the truth is I feel like I worked hard enough to be in this position right now.”
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