- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Trevon Hartfield spent a few days recently vacationing in Las Vegas.

He’d have much rather been on the practice field.

But as the NFL Playoffs begin, he and his Arizona Cardinals teammates are beginning their offseason instead. Seven wins does not a playoff team make. Their season was disappointing.

But Hartfield’s season?

It was far from disappointing.

The Oklahoma native made it to the NFL, and that was a success. An amazing, awe-inspiring success. That’s because the road Hartfield took from small-town Oklahoma to big-time pro football had as many twists and turns as it had bumps.

“I definitely did it my own way,” he said, chuckling.

You hear about small-town products making the NFL. Ditto for small-college players making it. You even hear occasionally about a guy making the league after starting his college career playing a different sport.

But Trevon Hartfield is all three of those things.

He grew up Watonga in northwestern Oklahoma, The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/2inZexh ). Even though the town is best known for its cheese, the Hartfields are pretty well-known, too. That name has been popping up on football and basketball rosters there for decades, and the most notable of the family was Trevon’s older brother, Travis, who played football at Oklahoma State in the 1990s.

Trevon was the quarterback and the point guard for Watonga, and while he was invited to the Oil Bowl for football and played in the coaches’ All-State game in basketball, big-time colleges weren’t interested.

But even if a major-college football team had offered a scholarship, Hartfield might not have taken it.

“These guys are too big, too fast, too strong,” he remembers thinking to himself. “I never want to play college football.”

He decided to play junior college basketball at Northern Oklahoma in Enid.

But after a year, he had second thoughts. He always aspired to play pro sports, and at 6-foot-2, he was undersized for basketball. But football? There were tons of guys his size playing pro football.

He transferred to Southern Nazarene, then an NAIA school. After playing the 2011 and 2012 seasons in the defensive backfield, he decided to transfer to Division-II Southwestern Oklahoma State. He knew he would have to sit out a year under conference rules - Southern Nazarene was moving not only to Division II but also to Southwestern’s conference - but a misinterpretation of the transfer rule ended up sidelining him for two seasons.

He didn’t play in 2013 or 2014.

Those were frustrating times. Hartfield had to get a job to help pay bills, and it wasn’t work he loved. It didn’t fulfill him. It didn’t inspire him. And it made him realize how much he wanted to play football.

Hartfield became an all-conference player at Southwestern in 2015, breaking the league record with 25 pass breakups and landing an invite to the Senior Bowl.

Over the next couple months, several NFL teams showed interest. They talked to him at his pro day. They called him on the phone. But no one seemed all that interested.

Then, a scout from the Cardinals called out of the blue. Hartfield hadn’t had any contact with Arizona at the Senior Bowl or at his pro day. But the scout said he liked Hartfield’s numbers and wanted some film.

Soon after Hartfield sent the film, the scout called back.

“I’m in love,” he said. “I’m going to send this over to our assistant GM. He’ll be giving you a call shortly.”

Hartfield had his doubts. He’d heard similar sentiments from teams before and never heard back.

But then 5 or 10 minutes later, his phone rang.

“I don’t need to see any more film,” the Cardinals‘ assistant general manager told Hartfield. “I want to fly you out on a visit.”

In the end, the Cardinals told Hartfield that he would either be the last player who they drafted or the first player who they called as an undrafted free agent. They were good to their word, calling him almost immediately after making their final draft pick and offering a free-agent deal.

“It was tough to turn down, I’ll tell you that much,” Hartfield said.

Arizona has a track record of developing unheralded players. Former Oklahoma standout Tony Jefferson went there as an undrafted free agent but became a starting safety. Division-II product John Brown went from Pittsburg State (Kan.) to a big target in the passing game.

But most of all, Hartfield felt like the Cardinals treated him differently than other teams; he felt like he was more than a roster filler to them.

“I didn’t want to be a number,” he said. “They were just on top of it so well.”

Hartfield landed on the practice squad after training camp, and while it wasn’t his dream, it was a good start. He worked hard. He learned lots.

Then, the night before Arizona’s Christmas Eve game at Seattle, he was put on the active roster. Tyrann Mathieu was going on injured reserve, and the Cardinals needed another safety. Hartfield got the news at the morning team meetings the day before the game.

“It was a blur, honestly,” he said. “I didn’t know anything. I really didn’t know much.”

He chuckled.

“That reminded me of my first college game.”

The difference, of course, was that in college, he wasn’t playing the Seattle Seahawks in one of the most intimidating environments in all of sport.

Hartfield tried not to think about the magnitude of the moment. About making it all the way from Watonga to the NFL. About being a rookie at age 24. About reaching the summit after being on a road with so many valleys.

But now that the season is over - he appeared in two games total - he has had a chance to reflect. He believes he made it because of the road he took, not despite it. He was never promised anything, so he learned to work for it. He was always faced with challenges, so he learned to fight through them.

And Trevon Hartfield isn’t done.

“I’ve got crazy dreams, to say the least,” he said.

Sure seems foolish, though, to bet against him.

___

Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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