In 1987, the New York Giants used the 251st overall pick, in the now-nonexistent 9th round of the NFL Draft, on running back Dana Wright out of the University of Findlay.
It was a big year for the small school out of Ohio, as two of Wright’s teammates – DE George McDufee and OT Keith Cupp – were also signed to NFL rosters that season.
Yet Findlay was a wasteland for NFL prospects for more than 25 years. Then came along Harold Jones-Quartey, originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals this off-season.
Following the preseason, Jones-Quartey was cut by the Cardinals and immediately signed by the Chicago Bears. Due to Antrel Rolle’s ankle injury, Jones-Quartey will line up as the club’s starting safety for the second straight week against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
While he doesn’t have the pedigree of a big-school player, Jones-Quartey doesn’t lack in confidence. When asked if he ever thought he’d make it to this level, when 25-plus years of Findlay players never sniffed the NFL, Jones-Quartey didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, absolutely I did,” he told Bear Report. “Although I’ve played football for many years, since I was a little kid, I think it all became real my freshman year in college. I had a weight lifting coach at Findlay, Coach Wagner, and he always believed in me.
“Once we began working out as a team under his supervision, it felt as if a whole new world opened up to me. I was pretty good and I could see myself progressing further, perhaps into the NFL. But the reality of the situation was that I played for a school with 4,000 students. We weren’t on national television and I wasn’t sure how many scouts would have spotted me.”
Due to a lack of attention from pro scouts, Jones-Quartey focused on creating an NFL-caliber body.
“I spent a lot of extra time in the weight room and worked on a specialized program that would build me up where I needed some work,” he said. “The results were pretty impressive and I was definitely encouraged. I had some good game film and my agent sent that around. I had strong numbers at pro days and that helped as well. I got invited to some tryouts and it all went on from there.”
He showed good power and explosiveness during his pro day – including a 40-inch vertical jump and an 11-1 broad jump, as well as 20 bench-press reps – but when draft weekend had concluded, Jones-Quartey was left on the outside looking in.
“Draft weekend was not my favorite time. It was difficult to hear other players being chosen and not have my phone ring. Soon after that though I was signed by Arizona. I really appreciated that they took a chance on me. Training camp went well but in the end I guess it was a numbers game. Too many good guys at my safety position and I was out. The good part is that the Bears picked me up right after that, on September 5.
“It was somewhat strange coming into a team as a rookie where most of the other guys had been together in training camp. When I arrived, I was essentially learning the plays on the practice field as they unfolded before me. The playbook wasn't too much of a problem. Similar plays to what I'd had before, just different terminology.
“I’ve always had good football intelligence and I’m a hard worker, so I picked up the schemes pretty fast. What [defensive coordinator Vic] Fangio was running was definitely close to what we used at Findlay. The schemes were surprisingly similar. Nickel blitzes, that kind of thing.
“The most exciting thing for me once I signed with the Bears was being in the locker room next to one of my football heroes, Antrel Rolle. Really? That was unbelievable. I used to watch him on TV and tried to pattern a lot of my moves on those he used. The best part was that he was more than willing to help me out. There were two rookie safeties, Adrian Amos and myself, who needed seasoned vet advice, and he was always there to assist.
“Antrel got hurt playing the Raiders so now I have a chance to start. Unbelievable. I am extremely sorry to see him go down but for me personally having this opportunity is a dream come true. You can imagine how hard I’m working to even begin to fill his shoes.
“The way you get news like that, that you might start, is your coach tells you to keep studying, keep working hard. That's the clue that you could be out there a lot more than you have been previously. The entire philosophy of this team is next man up. You never know what will happen. Whether you are a rookie from a small school or a vet who knows a lot, you are expected to produce when your number is called.
“This has been a tough journey coming here from a small school, and being an underrated free agent is a much harder road than being drafted. All in all, though, it all evens out in the end. My passion, my love for the game got me here and I’m going to do everything I can, looking to be a positive contributor for the Bears.
“Looking ahead to Detroit my take on things is that they are a lot better team than their record would indicate. They have a strong, fast offense. For me personally, it’s extremely important to prepare and be ready for the looks they will give us. I’m looking forward to the game. No nerves, just a lot of positive anticipation. I've got quite a few friends from Findlay coming to Detroit to watch.
“Again, a dream come true.”