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Practice a good thing for HBCU alumni football aspirations
Practice squad an entry to NFL roster spot
Published Tuesday, September 15, 2020 6:20 pm
by Bonitta Best | The Triangle Tribune

“…I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We’re talking about practice. Not a game. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game. We’re talking about practice, man. – Allen Iverson

Who can forget that memorable exchange by the Philadelphia 76ers superstar in 2002. And it’s STILL funny!

But “practice” can be serious business for some players, especially in the NFL. Practice squads are a way for players to make a living in the game they love while trying to snag a coveted roster spot.

Practice squads are exactly what the name implies: players practice with the 53-man roster, but they don’t travel with the team or play in games unless they are “called up,” so to speak.

Sixteen players comprise a practice squad, which doesn’t count towards a team’s roster limit. Many have potential but coaches may feel they need more work before hitting the big stage. Sort of like free-agent signings.

Coaches don’t want to “waste” a draft pick on certain players (even though they may be deserving), but once the draft is over, the phones start ringing with free agent offers. It’s a route that HBCU players are quite familiar with.

But there are worse gigs. Football is a brutal game and injuries are going to occur. Being on a practice squad with the right team can put a player in the right position at the right time.
And, like the 53-man roster, the competition is stiff. Ten of the 16 players can’t have more than two seasons in the league to be eligible. The remaining six can have unlimited experience, a change this season due to COVID-19.

Another change is that up to two practice players can be promoted to the roster during the season without having it count against the 53.

And the pay is not bad, either. According to the NFL, the minimum is $8,400 per week or $142,800 for the 17-week season. Veterans with more than two years of experience can take home $12,000 per week or $204,000 for the season. And if a team really wants to keep a player around, they can offer even more.

The bad side is there is no guaranteed money, and a player can be released at any time. But the way this pandemic is going, that can be said for most of us.

Four HBCU players were on practice squads as the NFL season kicked off:

• Nick Leverett from N.C. Central to Tampa Bay

• Bobby Price from Norfolk State to Detroit Lions

• Chris Rowland from Tennessee State to the Atlanta Falcons

• Montrel Meander from Grambling State to New York Jets to Cleveland

Bonitta Best is sports editor at The Triangle Tribune in Durham.


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