“Coming from a small school you always have to prove that you’re just as good if not better than a guy coming from [a] bigger school.”
That’s what Baltimore Ravens undrafted free agent, Silas Stewart told me when I asked him about what it was like to come from a small school and be dropped head first into the NFL.
Stewart, a linebacker, played his college ball at the University of the Incarnate Word. Before that, he played at Riverside City College, a junior college in Riverside California. To make the jump from a very small school to the NFL is difficult, but Stewart views it as a personal challenge, not an impossible task.
“The advantage [of playing at a small school] is the chip on my shoulder that it’s built.”
After watching three days and 254 selections go by without his name being called, the chip on Stewart’s shoulder has only gotten bigger. All 32 teams decided to pass on him in the draft, but Stewart is confident that he will make each and every team regret that decision.
“I feel like in order to be successful at this level you have to have some sort of chip on your shoulder,” he told me. “I’m here to take what’s mine and make a name for myself.”
Stewart is one of 19 undrafted free agents signed by the Ravens after the draft. His chances to make the 53-man at the end of the preseason are slim, but that won’t stop him. He is determined in his quest to play in the NFL.
And it won’t stop Michael Onuoha either. The defensive lineman joined Stewart on Thursday at the start of rookie minicamp. Like Stewart, Onuoha is a small school product that faced adversity on his rocky journey to the NFL.
Onuoha played three seasons for the Texas A&M Commerce Lions, but his collegiate football story does not start there. In 2012, Onuoha was a four-star recruit and eyed a chance to play at one of the biggest and most successful football programs in the country. He stayed in his home state and signed with the Oklahoma Sooners.
Things didn’t go according to plan in Oklahoma, however. In his sophomore year, Onuoha underwent surgery for an injury that would jeopardize his football career. Onuoha never played another down for the Sooners and would stay off the field for two years, before he landed with the Texas A&M Commerce Tigers. Although playing in a small and relatively unknown division-II school was a far cry from his original intention to play on the nation’s highest stage, Onuoha carved out a space of his own and pushed his way back into the spotlight.
I asked Onuoha how adversity makes him stronger, he told me:
“Everyone has ups and downs in their lifetime. Life’s almost like a marathon at one point you’re doing well at the beginning but when that steep hill is right in front of you will you give up or are you going to push yourself. What separates me from others is that I learned from my adversity and continue to push my self to grow. The marathon continues!”
Both Stewart and Onuoha are longshots to make the Ravens roster, but neither of them is ready to give up on their dream to play in the NFL.
The Ravens will likely be their best chance to make it in the NFL. Baltimore has an extensive history of finding undrafted free agent gems that not only make the roster but become key players. For Stewart and Onhouha, this is the ultimate goal.
Special thanks to Silas Stewart and Michael Onuoha for their contributions to this story.