Everyone knows the superstars, the guys who find ways to get the ball in their hands with the game on the line. But what about the guys who don’t even get to stand on the sideline?
Practice squads help NFL teams prepare each week by running the opposing team’s plays. To do so, they make a decent salary, $5,200 per week. However, as a practice squad player, there is no job security.
Chad Upshaw knows this all too well. Upshaw was a tight end at the University at Buffalo and signed with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent. Like many players on the fringe, Upshaw’s NFL biography is a series of transactions.
He bounced to Denver’s practice squad and back to Carolina. Now, he is unsigned and is likely working out in the hopes that he will be one of eight players selected to the practice squad after cuts are made.
Because people can’t see him on television each Sunday, to most people, he is nothing.
To me, Chad is the three-sport stud (football, basketball and baseball) whom I read about in the Connecticut Post the day after he transferred to St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, Conn., my school. Chad is the guy I competed for playing time with on the baseball field.
I remember a teenage Chad, like the rest of us, searching for his identity. Unlike the rest of us, he did so in the large shadows of an athletically successful family.
Now that I’m out of touch with the man, there is so much I’d love to know as a former teammate, curious journalist, and supporter of the underdog. Here are some of the questions I would ask Chad if given the opportunity to interview him.
1. Your father played in the Major Leagues for 10 seasons, and your cousin has been widely involved in the NFL as a player and as an executive director of the NFL Players Association. Obviously, there were a number of advantages in having their counsel and experience available to you. What were some of the disadvantages?
2. Because of your family’s athletic background, were you pushed toward any one sport? If so, how did that affect your athletic life as a young player?
3. What is your reaction when you hear comments about athletes only playing for the money?
4. As a member of a practice squad, what are your goals? And how do you try to accomplish them?
5. From when you played youth sports in Connecticut to your time at the University at Buffalo, you were one of the best players on any court or field you stepped on. How have you adjusted to being one of the least-talented players for the first time in your career?
6. What separates you from the players ahead of you on the depth chart?
7. How is your personal development affected as you attempt to imitate the opposing team’s plays in practice?
8. Since you are not as financially secure as players under contract and on the roster, how do you balance preparing for your football season and managing your life financially?
9. How do you deal with the highs and lows of being consistently cut and signed?
10. If you don’t get the opportunity to play on the active roster, how many seasons do you envision yourself spending on the practice squad before ending your career?