Think about the players at this weekend's mini-camp and what they're really going through. For just about all, it's their first time in a professional football environment, and certainly their first time wearing the silver helmet with the blue star on the side, which many admit can be very intimidating. For many, it's their first time in Dallas-Fort Worth. They have new coaches to impress, new schemes to learn with new terminology, and they have to translate that newly-crammed knowledge into enough performance on the field to be invited back to training camp.
Then consider the life of Danny Polk, one of the free agents trying to earn a spot on the Dallas Cowboys' roster — or at least an invitation to training camp — as a free agent: like many of the players in Valley Ranch, he's close to graduating … once he gets through with three more final exams: in pathophysiology, critical care and neo-natal medicine. As a senior at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Polk would go to the MSU coaches' offices around noon, then to film sessions with his teammates, then to lift weights, then to position meetings, then to practice, then home to shower and … to the hospital, where he worked a 12-hour shift every night as part of his education and training in respiratory therapy and as an anesthesiologist's assistant.
This was during the season.
So now he's in the Cowboys' mini-camp, and has a new offense to learn … with the aforementioned new terminology … at another position (the college quarterback is trying to make the team as a wide receiver) … and the three final exams mentioned above will be administered Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week (he returns Sunday night to Wichita Falls).
At least he's in his hometown; Polk grew up in Dallas, attending South Oak Cliff High School. Polk said that when he wasn't drafted, he heard from more than half a dozen teams, including the Buffalo Bills, the Arizona Cardinals, the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, but he quickly narrowed it to either the Dolphins or his hometown team.
"Being from Dallas was really only a small part of it," Polk said. "I got a chance to meet the staff, and Jerry Jones, and he told me out of his own mouth that he wanted me here. I looked at the situation with each team, and realized this was the best opportunity for me. You've got Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Patrick Crayton — it's a chance to learn from the best."
Also not lost on Polk is the fact that Crayton also is a former college quarterback who came to the Cowboys and successfully made the transition to the wide receiver position.
"Absolutely, that was important," he said. "They're not looking to me to come in and start right away. When I made my choice, I wanted to make sure I was coming to a team that had a strong organization. Patrick Crayton has been through this and came out as a great receiver. He understands the process, so I can learn from him, but the team also understands that it's just that — a process."
If the process doesn't lead to an NFL career, Polk appears positioned to make a rapid transition into a medical career, but he's far from ready to abandon his NFL dreams. He said he'll study when he returns Sunday to Wichita Falls — "I'm concentrating on the playbook this weekend," he said — and is confident he'll be ready for his last three final exams … although he's hoping he doesn't make his living that way just yet.
Polk said he has known for a while that if he was going to get a shot at playing in the NFL, he would have to change positions. After his redshirt sophomore year at Midwestern Stat, one of his coaches told him that to play professionally, he would have to move to wideout. The new position presented a new challenge, but Polk said it's hard to be upset about the move.
"This is the NFL," he said. "How can I complain?"
UFA Polk Turns Heads
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