Two former Illini chasing the dream
INDIANAPOLIS — This spot on the calendar is an anxious one for NFL rookies.
Training camps are beginning or about to start for all 32 NFL teams.
If you’re not a top draft pick, some sleepless nights can ensue, particularly if you’re still waiting to hear a call from a prospective team.
Two former Illinois players, offensive lineman Corey Lewis and tight end Evan Wilson, are in that position right now. Both went undrafted in May after playing their final season at Illinois in 2013. Both are still clinging to hope they could wind up on an NFL roster this fall.
“Just trying to make this football dream a reality,” said Wilson, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys before the Cowboys released him in late May because of an injury.
Wilson — who had six catches for 67 yards and three touchdowns last fall — didn’t disclose what type of injury he was dealing with.
For Lewis, injuries are a constant accompaniment to his football career. He endured three ACL tears to his left knee and five subsequent surgeries during his six seasons with the Illini.
And then he discovered after the 2013 season ended he had played last fall with a torn ACL once more in his left knee.
He had surgery on Dec. 18, hindering his preparation for the NFL draft. During Illinois’ pro day in early March, Lewis just went through bench press repetitions as his achy knee prevented him from doing more in other drills.
“It was tough to hear at first because I got invited to the East-West Shrine game, and I had to turn that down last offseason,” Lewis said. “I knew with my history of injuries it put a damper on me when teams looked at me. All that kind of sunk in, and it hurt. I called my mom and called my dad the day I found out. My parents are my rock, and they have always found a way to get me re-motivated.”
Lewis said he worked out with the New York Giants a few weeks ago and was cleared medically last Thursday. Seeing former offensive linemen Lewis played with at Illinois, like Jeff Allen with the Kansas City Chiefs and Jack Cornell with the Oakland Raiders, among others, gives Lewis incentive to keep pursuing an NFL roster spot.
“I feel like I belong at that level,” Lewis said. “I would love to reach it, and I would love to pursue it and get that opportunity. It hasn’t worked out the exact way I wanted to, but I believe God has a plan for me.”
The recent plan for both Lewis and Wilson has found them in Indianapolis, training and waiting by their phone. Both would gladly hop on a plane and report to an NFL training camp should either receive a call.
“We’re both still going to try to play football,” Wilson said. “Rehab in Indy. I should be having some tryouts with some teams soon. I just want to get into a camp.”