HOUSTON — LaAdrian Waddle was met with a cold reality on Christmas morning inside Rice Stadium: The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Texas Tech senior offensive tackle is not going to make it as an NFL kicker.
During a moment of levity toward the end of Tech’s rain-soaked bowl practice Tuesday, Waddle booted an impromptu field-goal attempt that darted woefully off target, drawing a chorus of laughter from his teammates.
But even though Waddle made it clear he won’t be making a living as a kicker, a career as a professional football player is still very much in his sights. The first-team all-Big 12 lineman has been projected by several outlets to be a mid- to late-round draft pick come April, and with the last days of his college career ticking down, Waddle said his future in football has been heavy on his mind.
“I’m really looking forward to getting a shot,” Waddle said this week as the Red Raiders prepared for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas against Minnesota, which kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday inside Reliant Stadium. “Hopefully I’ll get drafted, go to a team and work hard, just move up the ladder.”
Tech interim coach Chris Thomsen, Waddle’s position coach on the offensive line this season, believes the senior is well-equipped to be a productive player at the next level.
“I’ve coached 20 years, and most of that has been on the offensive line,” Thomsen said, “and LaAdrian Waddle is one of the most intelligent players I’ve been able to coach. In addition to his physical tools — his size, quickness and strength — he has great intelligence and great character. He practices the same every day. He’s someone you can totally count on, totally depend on.”
Waddle is probably Tech’s best NFL prospect, but he is not the only Red Raider who hopes to continue his football career after the final whistle blows on Friday night.
Darrin Moore’s stellar senior season — 81 catches for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns — has only grown stronger as the campaign has waged on. His last performance was one of the best of his career, a 13-catch, 186-yard, two-touchdown outing that has provided momentum he hopes can be carried into his quest for a pro career.
“It’s going to be different, man, real different,” Moore said. “It’s not the college life anymore. It’s the real world and it takes training. I’m going to be grinding every day. I feel pretty good about it. I’m glad my last game was a good one. I plan on going out with another good game.”
For a number of Tech seniors, the last four to five years has brought the constant routine of classes and controlled practices. The next stage doesn’t provide as much certainty. Some players will search out agents and move to a place where they can undergo individual training and prepare for the NFL draft.
Without a schedule to turn to, motivation to prepare every day has to come from within.
“It’s very weird,” Tech senior center Deveric Gallington said. “It’s nerve-wracking a little bit because you’ve been playing college football for the last five years, and you’ve been on scholarship. Now it’s getting into the real world where I have to buckle down. If the next level is something I want to do, I’m going to have to pursue it very hard. It’s very nerve wracking. It’s not that I’m nervous, just eager to get going.”
And there isn’t much time to rest.
Safety Cody Davis, who said on Tuesday he has accepted an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game — along with Tech quarterback Seth Doege — will only take two days off following Tech’s bowl game on Friday before getting back to work on Monday. He knows a professional career isn’t going to be handed to him.
“Nothing is known past this part,” Davis said. “You have a plan up to this point. You go to high school, you go to college, and from there it’s kind of a question mark. I always tell my fiancee — we’re getting married in April — that I’ll be unemployed and homeless when we get married. So there’s a big question mark on that.”
Doege’s father is a longtime high school football coach, and Tech’s senior signal-caller — the third all-time leading passer in school history — has been around the game as long as he can remember.
That makes it hard for Doege not to imagine playing it after Friday.
“I’ve put a lot of time into football,” Doege said, “a lot of time into this game to where I feel like I need to pursue a professional career. I don’t know where that’s going to take me, but it’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m going to give it my best. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, but that’s the plan.”
It’s hard not to ponder the future for Tech’s seniors with so much uncertainty on the immediate horizon. It’s why these Red Raiders said this week they are trying to cherish every last practice, the windows on their college careers rapidly closing.
“It’s another step up and I’m looking forward to it,” Waddle said of a potential pro career, “but first I’ve got business to take care of here.”
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