Chicago Bears linebacker Lawrence Wilson is still trying to achieve his dreams. He spent last year in Bourbonnais with the Bears but was cut at the end of training camp. Late in the season, he was signed to Chicago's practice squad. Once the campaign ended, he was signed to a reserve/futures contract.
To help his cause this season, Wilson attended rookie minicamp last weekend. The Bears have a crowded group of linebackers but Wilson is looking to catch on in some form as a contributing member of the final 53-man roster.
We caught up with Wilson and discussed his NFL journey, his time in minicamp and much more.
"I'm back again with the Bears, at least for this weekend. I've been out of football more or less for about a year and a half and I'm seeing this as my shot to get back in the league. I was drafted by the Panthers (sixth round, 2012) but then cut. The Bears picked me up in January of 2013. I remained with the team until August of that year. Now I'm here again. I got a call last week and packed my bags immediately.
"I'm older than most of the guys who are here now. I'm 26. I think maybe one or two other players are in their mid 20s, but I'm the oldest.
"I see that as an advantage. I've been in this system, and I know a lot of the guys here. Communication is so much of success on the football field. I know I can communicate with these players because I've done it before.
"Coming back everything looks different. When I left, construction on Halas Hall was still going on here. It's amazing how well all that turned out. This is a first-class facility now."
What was your biggest challenge being away from football for most of last season?
"That's an easy answer: keeping my head in the game. When you are not playing, are not with a team but guys you know are playing, it's incredibly difficult mentally. It's so easy to get discouraged and give up.
"Football was something I've enjoyed since I was maybe 4 years old. I loved every aspect of it and it wasn't something I was willing to walk away from. Getting back in the game is not easy. You have to call on every bit of discipline you might have to be successful.
"I established a routine and I stuck to it every day from the time I was cut until that call came from the Bears a little while ago. I worked out exactly as I would have had I still been on the team. I watched my diet and made sure to keep my entire body healthy and functioning.
"The advantage was in having seen how this is done. I learned from the pros at the Jags and at the Bears in terms of conditioning and nutrition. You can't be a successful athlete without that physical foundation.
"I watched my weight. I kept track of what I was able to do in terms of workouts. My goal was to come back into the NFL a much stronger player. The age thing is a positive factor as well, I believe. My judgment is much better now than it was a few years ago. I understand the physical and mental demands of the game. I know what it's like to be on a pro field and to do well there.
"This was a nurturing environment for me and a place I'd love to be a part of again. Leaving here last year was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I missed the guys. I missed excitement of game day. It was difficult doing things day to day without that encouragement from the team and that overall level of friendly competition. I know I love football too much to leave it behind right now.
"I'm prepared both physically and mentally. I feel I am a good fit for this team and I know what I need to demonstrate this weekend in terms of maturity and skills. I am stronger and more driven than ever. I may not be 22 years old, but my age and experience in this system is a definite advantage."
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.