"Very long odds, but here I am," Mario Addison said with a broad smile as he spoke from the comfy confines of his locker space at Halas Hall.
For Addison – a 23-year-old, 6-3, 252-pound defensive end from Birmingham, Ala. – making it to the NFL is one more demonstration of his high character, skill and desire. That he can look back in delight at his good fortune makes it all the better. Addision tells Bear Report about his football journey.
"I started playing football at age five. I also played baseball, basketball, really any sport that was around during a given time of the year, but football was always my first choice.
"I was fortunate to have come from a very supportive environment. My mother may have been concerned that I'd get hurt but if so, she never said that to me. I felt free to pursue just about any interest that I had, athletically speaking.
"I played through grade school, high school and into college. I lined up at a variety of positions. Anywhere a team needed me really. As I filled out in weight to match my height, I found that being a lineman suited me best. And that's where I still am today.
DE Mario Addison
"Every kid who plays football dreams of being in the NFL some day. I did too but it was never an all-consuming thing. I had a balanced life.
"I played the first two years of college at Northeast Mississippi then I transferred to Troy for my last two years. I played in 25 games during two years at Troy and had 79 tackles. Although Troy is a Division I school, it is a small school and I didn't have high hopes of getting noticed by pro scouts. Draft day came and went and I didn't have an offer. It was discouraging but not surprising. That's when I decided to go the undrafted-free-agent route.
"I was delighted to end up with the Bears in training camp. It was very difficult to keep focus leading into camp, though, with the lockout going on. You never knew from one day to the next when, or even if, it would end.
"The pressure at camp was beyond anything I have ever experienced before. I was absolutely terrified. Although we were supposed to get our rest at night, I used to stay up until three in the morning, and often later, just trying to work things out in my head. I worked on the playbook, I thought through the plays. I knew this was my one shot at the pros and I was going to do everything in my power not to ruin it.
"You know what saved me? The coaches and the veteran players. I guess they saw something in me that I couldn't see in myself. They worked with me, gave me time, and helped me learn. I think that is what is so unusual about the Bears.
"I know it sounds trite, but this is a family. Everybody here is nice. There are no egos, even with the well-known players. Everybody is looking out for each other, watching our backs. I felt valued and I also knew that if I ever needed help of any kind, either on or off the field, it would be available to me immediately. Since I came from a small school environment, this was the best possible situation I could ever hope to have.
"I felt my camp went pretty well so I did have some slight hope of making the final roster, but as players got cut I grew incredibly nervous. I can't tell you how awful those last few days leading up to final cuts were for me. I couldn't eat. I rarely slept. I jumped every time the phone rang. But when the call finally came and I was offered a spot it was as if an elephant had climbed off of my back. I breathed a massive sigh of relief.
"But of course the pressure isn't over. It's here every day. Just because you are on the roster doesn't mean you will stay on the roster, so I try to prove myself every single day. I work on technique, I study the playbook, I ask questions. I really want to be here so I'll work hard to remain here.
"The fun part now is having my family come up to watch a game. How great is that? Here are the people who were my support, who helped me reach this level and now they can see how it all worked out. And this weekend will be particularly sweet. One of my college friends from a rival school is a rookie with the Packers. I can't wait to see him on the field and to kick his butt.
"Everything worked out perfectly. It's beyond anything I could ever have hoped for."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.