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Tight end Colin Cloherty '09 has a 'crazy ride' as an NFL rookie

Colts player offers vision of life in the big leagues

It was 6:28 a.m. Tight end Colin Cloherty '09 was walking into the Cleveland Browns weight room for a lift that was to begin in two minutes when his phone rang. A Browns representative told him he wouldn't need to work out today. He had been cut.

Cloherty had until 11 a.m. to be out of his hotel room, where he had been living instead of an apartment. When you're an NFL rookie with a week-to-week contract, life is just too unpredictable to put down a month-long lease.

Cloherty immediately rang up his agent and told him to start making calls. The agent contacted the Indianapolis Colts, the team with which he started the season.

"Indy was kind of delaying, saying ‘Well, we might take him. We might not take him,' " Cloherty said. "So I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and kind of hung out for a while."

Eventually, he had seen all of the Elvis memorabilia he needed to see, and Cloherty got into his car — which held everything he owned — and started driving toward home in Bethesda, Md.

But midway through the drive, Cloherty's phone rang. It was the Colts, and they wanted him in Indianapolis.

"So I hung a right," Cloherty said, "and went out to Indianapolis — ran over a deer on the way — and got into Indianapolis late, late Monday night and then spent the rest of the season in Indianapolis."

So much for the glamorous life of the NFL.

"I was thinking Cowboys of the 1990s, you know, parties and everybody knows who you are and media all over the place," Cloherty said. "And that's really not how it is. It's football 90 percent of your life — from when you wake up to when you go to sleep. And then maybe once every other week or something, you get to go out with some of the guys and hang out on a Monday night."

Last weekend, four Brown football players — David Howard '09.5, Bobby Sewall '10, Buddy Farnham '10 and James Develin '10 — earned their shots at making it to the NFL. One year ago, Cloherty was where they are now — trying to finish up final exams, go to rookie minicamps, graduate from Brown and secure a spot on an NFL roster, all within a few weeks. Though each NFL career is different, Cloherty's experience offers some hint of what the latest group of Bears trying to suit up for an NFL team will face in the next year.

Manning: ‘Who's this guy running the wrong route?'
During rookie minicamp, Cloherty had his first interaction with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Cloherty was running routes on one side of the field while Manning was practicing on the other.

"I was supposed to run five yards straight and then cut in," Cloherty said. "And I ran six yards instead of five and cut in. And (Manning) started yelling at me from across the field. You know, ‘If they wanted it to be a six, they would have said at six. And it's supposed to be at five. You won't be around here long if you can't count to five.' … That was just kind of the start of catching hell for not knowing the offense as well as you should when you're a rookie."

Cloherty said Manning turned out to be "definitely a nice guy," but whenever Cloherty made another mistake, Manning always reminded Cloherty of his new nickname, "Ivy."

"He would always use it in the worst circumstances, like, ‘Who's this guy running the wrong route and ruining my read on the play? Is that you, Ivy?' " Cloherty said with a laugh. "And I was like, ‘Yup.' And he was like, ‘Yeah, that Brown diploma isn't what it once was, huh?' And I'm like, ‘Uh. I guess not.' "

Out of necessity, Cloherty eventually learned the plays so that they were second nature. In the Colts offense, Manning may change the play three or four times at the line of scrimmage based on how defense lines up. That takes away any time to think about what the play is. Everyone just has to know it.

"The playbook is — I don't know if it's as hard or as thick as an orgo chemistry book, but there's definitely a lot of info you have to know," Cloherty said. "But after four years at an Ivy League school, you know what study habits work and what doesn't and how many hours you need to put into something to know it."

‘Pack your bags'
Cloherty stayed on the Colts practice squad, which he said was "kind of like redshirting in college." In addition to the 53-man active roster on each team, eight people are on the practice squad. The practice squad players don't get to suit up for games, they get paid less and they're always teetering on the edge of unemployment.

When Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney got injured in September against the Dolphins, the team needed to make room for another defensive end on the roster. Cloherty was cut the Monday after the injury.

"The first thing I did when I got cut was come to Brown Homecoming," Cloherty said. "It was good to be back."

He was without a squad for two weeks, but then Cleveland called and said, "Pack your bags, you're coming," according to Cloherty.

But they never called back. The next week, Cleveland called again and said, "This time it's for real." But they told him to pack for one week.

"They didn't give me a playbook. It was kind of obvious that I wasn't going to be there for very long. They were just paying me to practice as opposed to trying to develop me into something more."

Cloherty stuck around for three weeks before being cut at 6:28 that Monday morning.

When he got back to Indianapolis, Cloherty remained on the practice squad until the final week of the season. On the last play of practice on Thursday before the Week 17 game versus the Buffalo Bills, one of the tight ends ahead of Cloherty on the depth chart got hurt, so Cloherty was activated on the roster. Since the Colts had already clinched a playoff berth, they rested their starters, so Cloherty got to play just shy of 40 snaps.

He even got the ball thrown his way on one play.

"I knew I was going to get hit right afterwards and as soon as I caught it, I just tried to hold on really tight," Cloherty said. "I got tackled pretty quick and it was like a two-yard catch on 3rd and 14, so I got up and had to come off the field looking upset. … And inside, I'm doing a little celebration, really excited."

He stayed on the active roster throughout the playoffs but never got to play again. He did, however, get to be on a team that made it to the Super Bowl. He said "electricity was in the air" the night of the Super Bowl, but it short-circuited for the Colts in the fourth quarter, and especially in the locker room afterwards.

"You could hear a pin drop," Cloherty said. "There was no one upset or yelling. Everyone just knew we just lost the biggest game of our lives."

‘Right place at the right time'
Cloherty signed a three-year $930,000 contract when he got pulled up to the active roster. Nothing is ever guaranteed in the NFL, but he said the Colts are keeping him around until at least the start of next season.

For now, the tight end from Brown who signed a free-agent contract a year ago seems to have found his place in the NFL.

Brown Head Coach Phil Estes has seen a number of his players over the years try to make the leap to the NFL, and he understands how unpredictable the process is. Paul Raymond '08 has bounced around to four different teams in the last two years and is currently a free agent.

"Is (Raymond) good enough to make it? Yeah, he's absolutely good enough," Estes said. "He just had to find the right fit. So he went from the Jets to Detroit — he went to a couple of different places to try to hook on, and it may not have worked for Paul. But certainly Colin was in the right place at the right time."

Joe Leslie, Cloherty's former tight ends coach at Brown, agreed that
making it on an NFL roster requires "a little bit of luck and just getting a chance to show what they can do." If Howard, Sewall, Farnham and Develin "get a chance to get on somebody's radar, they all can do things that will make you step up and take notice. A lot of it is having an opportunity and just making the most of the opportunity," Leslie told The Herald in February.

Cloherty hasn't had a linear path to the NFL. He never knows when he'll have to pack his car again and check out of his hotel. And his career is always at the whim of an injury — his or someone else's.

"I definitely have had a different road than what you see on TV," he said. "But you know, it doesn't really matter what your path is once you're there. It's, can you play or not? It's definitely a different experience from what I was expecting. But on the whole, I've enjoyed it. It's been a crazy ride."


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