Hortonville, Wisconsin native and UW-Oshkosh graduate Joe Sommers signed with the Chicago Bears shortly after the conclusion of the 2016 NFL Draft. Sommers is the second Hortonville High School Titan to make it to the NFL following TE Bob Docherty, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006.
After Sommers' senior season at UW-Oshkosh, he was named to the NCAA Division III All-America team, following second-team All-American D3 honors in 2014. He finished his collegiate career (28 starts in 40 games played) with 87 catches for 1,384 yards and 7 TDs.
Sommers spoke with Bear Report during OTAs this week.
"It's just great to be here. It's been such a long road. As a Division III player the odds are always stacked against you. You wonder if scouts will ever see you and if they do, will they care?
"I did not get an invitation to participate in the Combine, which was kind of expected I guess. But when that happened I knew it was all on me to prepare for the Pro Day at Wisconsin. I joined Next Level Fitness in Waukesha to prepare. That was interesting as it was the first time that I only had football to worry about. No classes, no distractions, just football.
"Right before the Pro Day I practiced on the field where I used to play high school ball. It was great to be back there again and to, hopefully, build my career where it all began. I also kept in close contact with my college coach, Pat Cerroni, the greatest coach ever. He deserves all the credit for giving me the confidence to use my skills in order to reach this level.
"I spent my time there working out, adjusting my diet and doing everything possible to improve my visibility at the try out. I was living a very focused life, just eating, sleeping, training, getting my mind right. It was a longer and more involved process than you could imagine.
"When the time came to showcase what I had accomplished at Pro Day, I was fortunate enough to get the highest vertical leap at 36 inches. My 40 time was good and I felt I had a pretty strong showing.
"Draft weekend came and went with no calls. My agent felt I had a chance to go in a later round but that didn’t happen. When the Bears called, though, I was really excited. I’d been at Halas Hall in April for them to have a look at me and evidently I made a good impression. There was no hesitation at all on my part even though I grew up in Packers territory. I am 100 percent a Bear now and couldn’t be happier.
"Football has always meant a great deal to me. My parents were involved in Pee Wee Football in our small town. It was always part of our household routine.
"In high school and college I played two sports, football and baseball. I was an outfielder and played for a while in Milwaukee after college just to see if I’d like that. I wasn’t crazy about the metropolitan atmosphere in Milwaukee. Too much going on there for me, I’m just a small town guy.
"Also, I missed football almost immediately. Baseball is fine and I enjoyed it, but to me football is everything. It had been such a big part of my life for so long I couldn’t imagine going forward without it. I reconsidered my options and dropped the whole baseball career. I’d been playing football since kindergarten. It would have been impossible to leave all that behind.
"Since I’ve been here with the Bears it's been a whirlwind. The veterans are here now and it's incredible to be on the same field with them. There are so many role models here, guys I’ve only seen before on TV. It's an honor and a privilege to watch what they can do out there on the field. The vets have been incredibly patient in answering my questions and helping me along.
"Where do I see myself fitting in on this team? As a tight end, I rely on my receiving knowledge, my agility, and my ability to move fast. I have a good eye for how a play is unfolding and I can find holes pretty well.
"I’ve always enjoyed running and it's paying off so far. If I can beat a defender going down the field, I’m happy. At this point I’ve been used as a fullback. It's way too early to see where I will ultimately fit in but I think I have a lot to offer. I’m versatile and willing to learn.
"There is so much going on here right now. I feel like a kid on the first day of school. I need to concentrate on the job in front of me, take it slowly day by day and not look too far ahead. I am concentrating on my skills, learning the playbook and strengthening my fundamentals.
"Sometimes it seems almost surreal. Here I am on an NFL field, getting a shot to play. There is no job I’d rather have than the one I have right here, right now.
"The odds were against me going in. Really, how many Division III guys are fortunate enough to make it this far. I feel I’ve had to earn everything I’ve achieved this far. It's not so much that there is a chip on my shoulder but that I know it's all on me. I came a long way to get here through hard work and determination. I have this chance and I am going to use it in the best way I possibly can to contribute to this team."