Lelito eyes NFL chance with help from former teammates
While football season is over and the collegiate careers of the Grand Valley State University seniors have come to an end, just because it’s the offseason doesn’t mean the work is done for offensive guard Tim Lelito.
The list isn’t long — actually, it currently has only four names — but the transition of GVSU football players to the NFL has been one that started under former head coaches Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin and has continued under Matt Mitchell.
Now, with only his post-college career ahead, Lelito hopes to follow in the footsteps of former GVSU offensive lineman Nick McDonald, Cam Bradfield along with linebacker Dan Skuta and cornerback Brandon Carr into the world of the NFL.
“Those guys set down a legacy here at Grand Valley,” said Lelito, who was named to the 2012 Daktronics Super Region 4 Offensive First-Team. “That’s kind of what I want to leave behind here, just going out there and be as dominant as I can.”
Lelito has seen the success and work of these NFL players firsthand, playing left guard on the same offensive line as McDonald and Bradfield during the 2009 season — the last time GVSU played in the NCAA Division II national title game.
The most notable of the GVSU alumni currently in the NFL is Carr, who signed a five-year contract worth upwards of $50.1 million this offseason with the Dallas Cowboys.
Skuta is currently a linebacker and special teams player with the Cincinnati Bengals, while McDonald, who has seen spot duty with the New England Patriots this season, was a member of the Green Bay Packers’ when it won Super Bowl XLV.
On the other side, Bradfield, a Grand Rapids native, has seen success with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After going undrafted in 2011, the 6-foot-4 right tackle has started 10 of the Jaguars’ 12 games after missing two with an injury early in the season.
Though he’s seeing and experiencing the success that Lelito strives to replicate, Bradfield said the process is one requiring total effort on daily basis.
“It’s hard work. One of our coaches says every day, ‘compete to play, compete to stay,’” Bradfield said. “Really, you have to go in there every day competing for everything you have, thinking, get better at something every day. It’s pretty much going in with that mindset every day.”
An NFL study found that the average career length is 6.89 years, which is a number hundreds of players never stick around long enough to see.
“You never know. For some guys it could be a day, and for some, Ray Lewis is in his 17th year,” Bradfield said. “It really doesn’t matter what year you’re in or where you come in, you just have to come in with the mindset to work hard.”
Bradfield and Lelito both talk about it — the work ethic of those who have made it to the NFL is motivation. Lelito said Skuta and Carr worked harder than anyone he’s ever seen, and that type of mindset is what has him prepared for the rigors of being an underdog ahead.
“It’s huge having a great work ethic and being able to out-work some of those guys that have the big names and come form the very prestigious schools,” Lelito said. “That’s one thing that (teammates in the NFL) taught me that, hopefully, helps me later on down the road.”
That kind of communication between teammates — Lelito still keeps in touch with guys like Carr and Skuta — is something that’s aided Bradfield’s transition as well.
“Along with Nick, Dan and Brandon, they’ve all had some part in helping me get ready to play before I started in Jacksonville,” Bradfield said. “So, picking those guy’s brains, and asking them what types of things they had to go through — I mean they all played a key role.”
Even with the demanding regiment that comes with sustaining an NFL career, there are aspects of that career that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
Like blocking for one of the NFL’s top tailbacks in Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew.
“It’s awesome, I mean, he comes in with a great mindset and he plays very hard as you can see on tape,” Bradfield said of Jones-Drew. “To just know you have somebody back there running the ball that hard makes you want to do your job even more to your ability.”