By Matt Williams
Kyle Harrington's phone was buzzing with congratulations yesterday after a UMass press release announced he'd earned a National Football League tryout with the Miami Dolphins.
The truth is, the former Salem High star has indeed earned his shot to play professional football, just with a different club.
The 6-foot-4, 295 pound defensive lineman has accepted an invite to Chicago Bears mini-camp next week, and if all goes well he'll sign as a free agent at the end of the weekend.
"I had a lot of options, but depth chart wise Chicago's a great fit because they didn't draft any defensive linemen," Harrington said. "You have a better chance of going in there and playing if there's not a drafted guy in front of you so this is really one of the best options."
Harrington, who has the second best bench press in UMass history at 435 pounds, was projected as a late round pick after an excellent Pro Day showing. That came on the heels of an All-CAA second team selection at nose tackle and a career highlighted by 142 tackles and six sacks.
Since the NFL draft was split over three days for the first time, Harrington's main focus was Saturday's late rounds. Though he didn't get the draft call, he said he's still thrilled with the opportunity to continue playing football.
"It wasn't that busy (on Saturday)," said Harrington. "My agent got most of the calls and he dealt with the teams. He helped me out in the end to decide which was the best fit."
Harrington, who hopes to showcase himself at both defensive tackle and end at the mini-camp, is aiming to make an NFL roster among the likes to offseason acquisition Julius Peppers and Tommie Harris.
"I know I'd need to gain some weight to play on the inside but I can also play outside," Harrington said. "I'd rather compete for two positions than be stuck at one."
Harrington was also invited to Washington Redskins camp, which takes place the week after the Bears'. If he doesn't earn a contract with Chicago, he'll try to catch on with Washington. A contract in either place would deliver a spot in training camp, but not necessarily on the final roster.
"Nothing is ever guaranteed," Harrington said. "If the Bears aren't interested (after the weekend), I'll have to prove myself the following week to the Redskins. You have to survive five cuts in (July and August's) training camp to even be on the active roster.
"Next week is where it starts."
Harrington, who turned 23 earlier this month, felt that his time training at Mike Boyle's Strength and Conditioning program was crucial to improving the measurables pro scouts look for.
"Its an unbelievable staff," Harrington said. "I wasn't that flexible when I got there and I never worked on speed. They really helped me out with that and my footwork is a lot better."
The Colonial Athletic Association has seen plenty of its players make it in the NFL as undrafted free agents — Harrington's former UMass teammate James Ihedigbo is one example with the New York Jets. In fact, the Bears were the team that signed Patriots safety Brandon McGowan as an undrafted free agent out of Maine, so the precedent is there for the Harrington to become the latest CAA success story.
"I'm flying out Thursday and I'll fly home on Sunday night, hopefully with a contract," said Harrington. "I think they're looking for the effort and the little things: Paying attention, not being too cocky and representing myself well in a controlled manner. You want to show you'll be a good player and good for the organization."