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FENNO: On NFL’s fringes, Mike Repovz clings to thread of hope

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 6, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Phone calls piled up over the weekend for Mike Repovz.

Mom. Dad. Uncles. Trainer.

There wasn't time to answer their questions about the three-day rookie minicamp at Redskins Park. Not when his NFL hopes hung by the slimmest burgundy thread, one of 48 players brought in for a tryout. They're the longest of long shots. Study the playbook in his hotel room in Northern Virginia, drift to sleep running through plays in his head and hope — pray, really — someone noticed.

The uncertain, anonymous life on the NFL's periphery is something Repovz appreciates better than most.

No NFL mock draft mentioned the outgoing, mop-haired offensive lineman from Central Michigan. No trip to the pre-draft combine or big-name agent or endorsement deal. A YouTube video of one of his workouts garnered 373 hits. So, Repovz watched the draft's final day at Buffalo Wild Wings and hoped, but didn't expect, to hear his name mentioned.

The draft's top overall pick, Eric Fisher, played left tackle for Central Michigan. Repovz started 10 games at right tackle after playing the previous season at left guard. Mention their university in Mount Pleasant, Mich., and folks gush over Fisher. Even ask Repovz if he knows the big tackle. For a minute, his voice turned weary.

"They always ask questions about him. I'm known as that other tackle," he said Sunday at Redskins Park. "I'm the other tackle. It's a humbling experience."

One will sign a contract worth tens of millions of dollars.

The other got a call at 1 p.m. the day after the draft. The Redskins wanted to bring him in for the tryout. Forget the jammed roster. That was his only offer. Didn't matter. He can't forget the call, the opportunity that washed away any lingering disappointment from the draft.

Repovz's mother, Lucy, figured the family would have to shoulder travel expenses for the tryout. They already kicked in support to help Repovz train twice daily for the past four months at the MECA gymnasium in Novi, Mich.

But an $874 ticket arrived from the Redskins (Repovz's eyes went big as he rattled off the amount) and, of course, they provided a hotel room and plenty of food.

An uncle suggested Repovz read up on coach Mike Shanahan's biography online.

He didn't want to leave any part of the three-day job interview under the unblinking eyes of three cameras on cherry pickers above the grass practice field to chance.

Same for the playbook. Don't understand what you're doing and you'll look lost and, even worse, slow. He tried to grasp the concept behind each play, not just his responsibility. Study, study, study was Repovz's mantra, something he understands after graduating with a degree in political science and minor in math with a 3.44 grade-point average. He hopes teams see a leader, an intelligent player with more to him than 6-feet-4, 295 pounds.

But the reality that there isn't another tryout lined up lurked in every step, every page. There's no nonfootball job standing by. The sun-drenched morning and bellowing coaches and chunks of turf kicked in the air is what he trained for.

"If you think about it, it's a lot of pressure. But once you get out here and get going, you don't have time to think about it," Repovz said. "Block the guy in front of you. Do it with the right technique. If you think about it outside of practice, it can be daunting."

Everything moved quickly, more than he experienced in the Mid-American Conference. Repovz savored every shred of feedback. The worst thing, he figured, is if coaches kept quiet around you. There's plenty to improve.

"I just need to be quicker," he said. "It's so fast. Everyone's just way faster. ... That was the biggest challenge for me. Being quick off ball and beating the defensive linemen to the play side."

Minicamp ended just before noon Sunday. The cherry pickers dropped to earth. Repovz lingered on the edge of the field as the other long shots and draft picks laughed and sauntered to the locker room. Words tumbled out as the tryout's tension seeped away. The future looked like a flight back to Michigan, resuming the punishing workout schedule and no guarantees. Only waiting for another phone call to extend his NFL quest.

"It's like the NFL is every man for himself," Repovz said, looking around the empty practice fields he wasn't eager to leave. "It's a business now."

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