If you read this blog regularly, you’re a fan of what happens in football behind the scenes as well as on the field. That’s one reason shows like ‘Undrafted,’ which debuted Tuesday in its third season on The NFL Network, have become so popular.
I made sure to tune in Tuesday after my former ITL intern, Murphy McGuire (and probably the rookie agent of the year as the only independent first-year contract advisor with a draftee this year) tweeted that the show was kicking off this week. It was then that I remembered that another ITL client, Samantha Stephenson, had a client on the show. I was especially excited to find out that she was the only agent that got airtime Tuesday night.
With that in mind, I reached out to her about the show and her experiences. Samantha, who’s one of the most approachable people in the business anyway, said she’s already getting attention from other players (mostly true long shots from previous draft classes). I advised her to politely decline them, of course.
Here are a few thoughts from Sam that I found interesting. They run a little long, but I found Sam pretty insightful and I thought you might, too.
“They had done their own kind of keeping an eye on players throughout the season, and they were looking for players this year that were really close to the cusp of being drafted or undrafted. Not only good football players but a good story to tell, things that make them more unique, than just the average football player you see on the field. But you’ll find so many of these guys have stories to tell, and have overcome adversity in one form or another. LaQuan had gotten quite a bit of press going into the season after the 2015 Cotton Bowl when he scored the 18-yard touchdown catch. After that, people started to notice him as a 400-pound tight end. And he had done Sports Illustrated (and other media), and there was press out there about him playing the position he did at the size he was. (The producers) reached out to Baylor, and they gave (the producers) my contact info, and I thought it would be a great opportunity.
“LaQuan is also very different form the typical football player, very quiet and to himself, and very protective of his story. To some degree, at Baylor, he probably felt like he couldn’t say no (to the media), so at one point he said, ‘I’ve already told my story to all these journalists, and there’s nothing else for me to tell.’ I definitely had to show him the upside, and I think during the filming process, we experienced that as well. He’s more of a ‘to himself’ guy, so having cameras and microphones follow him around was pretty exhausting for him.”
On the risk of Samantha looking bad on the show:
“I mean, of course, players are always looking for the agent that will land them as a first-round draft pick, and they were with us all day long on draft day, and we know the story (LaQuan goes undrafted). It was a hard day, a very emotionally hard day, and viewers will see me texting teams and making calls that go unanswered, and I’m sure some will attribute that to my agent abilities. So there was definitely that risk that I knew I was taking, and it’s still very very possible (he wouldn’t be) drafted, and it will all be on TV for everyone to see that he didn’t get drafted and people will attribute that to his agent. So I knew that going in, but it wasn’t until they were already filming when they asked me to be a part of it (and be on camera). I had planned to go to Baylor for pro day, but he wanted me there (for the first day of filming) to kind of filter and help him feel more comfortable with it, so I went down. On the first day, I’m sure the producer was saying, ‘this agent, she’s a lawyer, what a nuisance!’ It wasn’t until Day 2 (of filming) that they miked me up and heard more of my story and how I’m connected to LaQuan, and became an agent after my first year of law school, and that night the executive producer called me and said, ‘hey, we really want you to be a part of it. This is more of a story than just LaQuan’s story.’ It wasn’t until then that they wanted me to be a part of the process, too, so in that moment, I had to decide, is this about me or LaQuan? I thought, if this is a good look for LaQuan, and it reflects poorly on me, it’s OK because this was good for him.”
On the risk of LaQuan looking bad:
“Honestly, I can’t think of a time (when we had to discourage them from filming something or the direction they wanted to go). I’m not sure for the other guys, but for the filming for LaQuan, it was the same director, same camera guy and same (microphone) guy, so eventually LaQuan warmed up to them, and they started to warm up to him and understand what they could get and what they couldn’t.”
On LaQuan’s uphill battle:
“I can’t get on a whiteboard and draw up the best play in X’s and O’s, but the thing that I say is that, I know the business of football. Those of us that know the business of football knew LaQuan was a long shot. Even at the combine, when we were having the happy hour after the (ITL seminar), and (other agents) know of LaQuan, but he’s 400 (pounds) so that’s gonna be tough (to get him in an NFL camp). Everyone else thinks, ‘I‘ve got strength and I’m bigger and can run the 40, why isn’t that great? And they don’t understand that there’s this distinct mold you have to fit in to make the NFL, and 400 pounds is not that mold. It was Year 3 as an agent for me, and I knew what I was taking on, and I knew he had to lose weight to have a chance, but it was the other outside voices that made it hard. Like ‘you killed pro day,‘ and he had coaches that made him feel he was good, and dealing with those outside voices is what made it the hardest.”
On walking through the entire process with him:
“I was with him (on his pro day). It was my idea originally (to be there), and they ended up liking it, but I had already planned to do it. I was the only agent around my player for his pro day, and I guess that’s not the norm, but I couldn’t imagine sending my guy out for the biggest interview of his life by himself. That’s not the agent I want to be. Just preparing him for the interviews, going over questions, helping keep his nerves calm, getting the right nutrition in him the day before. Draft day was the same. I just couldn’t imagine not being with him. And it was even harder because we had to deal with the cameras and mikes in our face. It was very hard, and they interviewed me for the wrap-up interview a week and a half ago. It was a really hard night. LaQuan had to handle it, and I flew my best friend in and I wanted her there for emotional and technical support. I had 60-70 numbers I was monitoring, and I had her sending texts so I could be with LaQuan. I told the film crew, and I’m sure it will be on the last episode or two of the show, but I had to go to dinner with my friend and let the emotions out, and then film again the next day. I couldn’t have imagined not being with him. As much as he didn’t understand to a degree, I can’t imagine going through that alone. If you want to be an agent, you have to be able to face those hard situations. His family was hurting, but I couldn’t, being able to see him again on Sunday and talk to him one on one, it was hard, but let’s pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and keep moving forward.”