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REGGIE HAYES: Leo’s Adam Sauder dives into spring football league with Johnny Manziel, others chasing NFL dream

Adam Sauder, left, sits with Joshua Gamble during a stint playing in The Spring League in Austin, Texas. (Courtesy photo by Hector Valle)
Adam Sauder, left, poses with teammates Ridge Wilson, Kris Frost, Luke Stice and Ruben Demosthene at a spring football showcase in Austin, Texas. (Courtesy photo)
Adam Sauder, middle, makes a tackle during The Spring League. (Courtesy photo by John Gutierrez)

Adam Sauder knows the odds and obstacles and how high they are in his pursuit of a pro football career.

His view is simple: He’d be foolish to let the negatives keep him from taking every possible shot.

“I feel like God keeps on opening opportunities for me,” Sauder said. “As long as I’m healthy and feel I’m in shape enough and have the ability to keep pursuing the sport I love, I’m going to keep doing it.”

Roadblocks? He sees them as challenges, all the more reason to buckle down, train harder and let it all hang out. If an open door means going to Arizona and playing indoor football, he’ll do it. If it means going to Texas and playing in The Spring League largely recognized as ground zero for Johnny Manziel’s comeback, he’ll do it.

Whatever it takes, Sauder will pursue it.

You have to love this type of drive.

“Not very many people in life get an opportunity to be an adult playing a kids’ game,” Sauder said. “I feel truly blessed to even have an opportunity to do something like this.”

Sauder, 25, an alumnus of Leo High School and Taylor University, was undrafted coming out of college in 2016 but spent time in the Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers rookie camps that season. He stayed in shape and spent the 2017 winter playing for the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. A safety/linebacker hybrid, he led the Rattlers in tackles and helped them win the league championship.

After planning to return to the Rattlers, his agent recommended a better route to pro notice would be to train for The Spring League in Austin, Texas. It was geared specifically for players who have been pursuing pro careers for a year or more.

The league earned media notice because of the presence of Manziel, who ended up being a teammate of Sauder.

“Johnny Manziel was one of the biggest names and there were a couple linebackers who spent a couple years in the NFL and had been on active rosters,” Sauder said. “Some receivers, too. The list goes on and on. Last year, Ahmad Bradshaw played in it.”

Players had to apply to be part of the two-week showcase.

Sauder is trying to transition from safety to linebacker, and he said he felt he performed well in the first scrimmage April 7. He had a slow start in the second game Thursday but felt he played better as the game wore on.

“My goal is to be invited to a rookie camp or training camp or get signed,” Sauder said. “I talked to a couple CFL teams that were there. I feel like a lot of people look down on the Canadian league, but they don’t realize how competitive it is.”

Sauder is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, which makes him a bit undersized as a linebacker and a big for a safety. He feels linebacker is his best route to continuing to play.

Switching positions is another major challenge.

“The last time I played linebacker was my sophomore year in high school,” Sauder said. “Going from a high school defense to a pro-style defense is quite a transition.”

He said his first few days presented a steep learning curve on positioning for run defense and pass coverage. But one of his assets is his ability to learn quickly.

“I felt like by the end of my time (in Austin), I was comfortable at linebacker,” he said. “I enjoyed playing the position. It takes a special athlete to be able to come down and support the run but also drop back into coverage.”

More than 15 NFL teams and four or five CFL teams had representatives in Austin to scout the players, Sauder said.

Manziel’s presence brought some extra interest, he speculated.

“I had a little bit of interaction with him,” Sauder said. “I honestly feel like a lot of times the rap he had before doesn’t label him now. He’s very focused on football and coming back. He was always genuine with me and all the guys. He’s a natural leader.”

While Sauder has traveled the country in pursuit of his pro dream, he continues to call Leo and Fort Wayne home and trains with AWP Sports when he is in town. “I give a ton of credit to those guys,” he said.

A difficult, but unavoidable part of the journey is waiting for the NFL Draft to take place on April 26. After that, teams will be filling their rookie camp and training camp rosters.

“(The scouts) have access to all my game film and my agent is going to reach out to teams,” Sauder said. “Hopefully, a team saw something they like in my play and want to bring me in and give me an opportunity.”

Sauder understands the need for other options on the backburner if his pro football journey reaches a true dead end. He majored in marketing at Taylor with a minor in public relations.

“Life doesn’t end after football, you have to have a Plan B,” Sauder said. “The average NFL career is only three years. Once I’m done pursuing this, I’ll step into the real world and enjoy that.”

That real-world time isn’t here yet. Sauder is still out there running, chasing that pro football dream while he still can.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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