Nothing has come easy for Tressor Baptiste over the last few years, so that should make the next phase of his football career familiar territory. The odds of making an NFL roster as an undrafted rookie free agent are long, but Baptiste has already beaten them to get this far.
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He'll get his shot at the pros with the Chicago Bears after agreeing to a contract with the NFC Central club. Baptiste boarded a flight to Chicago Tuesday afternoon and will be with the Bears when camp begins tomorrow. In Bourbannais, Ill., on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, Baptiste will be one of 26 undrafted rookies fighting for a spot on the Bears roster.
Long odds. But no worries for Baptiste.
"I like the odds," said the former two-way star at Curtis HS, who played running back and linebacker during an Advance All Star senior season in 2005.
"If you understand my career and how I started playing football, from high school, I've been playing against the odds and beating the odds year after year on a consistent basis. I'm starting to feel like this is the only way I'm going to be successful, by taking it and not having it handed to me."
A year-and-a-half ago, Baptiste was in limbo. When Hofstra University dropped its football program two weeks after the end of the 2009 season, Baptiste was one of four Islanders — Zamel Johnson, Chris Thomas and Ken Munson the others — who had to look for a new school if they wanted to continue their football careers.
Baptiste, who was newly arrived in Hempstead after starting out at Lackawanna Junior College in Scranton, Pa., saw the bright side.
"I went to Hofstra and things weren't really working out as planned," said Baptiste. "Me and the coaches weren't on the same page as far as playing time. So when the program ended, I looked at it as an opportunity to revive my career."
With only one year of eligibility remaining, Baptiste wasn't counting on a lot of Division I interest. So he went online and Googled the top 10 Division II schools. He sent out 300 emails to coaches. He posted his highlights on
Less than 24 hours later, he heard back from coach David Calloway, the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M-Kingsville, a program with a long history of success down in south Texas, near Corpus Christi and the Gulf of Mexico.
"It's nothing like New York," said Baptiste. "It's definitely different. It feels like you're in a different world. It's south Texas, an hour away from the Mexican border. The culture is totally different. I like different and that was a reason I chose to go there, just for the experience."
At Texas A&M, Baptiste was named a First Team All American by the American Football Coaches Association and Third Team Little All-American by the Associated Press. He led the nation's top-ranked defense with 40 solo tackles and was tabbed as the Lone Star Conference South Division Linebacker of the Year.
Before the season began, Baptiste wasn't carrying around NFL dreams, at least not in any realistic way. Going from junior college to Hofstra to Kingsville, Texas is a good way to stay under the radar.
But his play, and the series of postseason accolades that came with it, ended Baptiste's anonymity. Invitations to postseason all-star games and calls from scouts started coming his way.
His stock rose enough that after training in Texas and Miami during the winter and early spring, Baptiste came home to Staten Island in April to watch the NFL Draft, holding out a chance to hear his name called in the late rounds. He even received calls during the draft, first from Seattle and then from Jacksonville, telling him he was their likely upcoming pick.
"I had high hopes of being drafted just from speaking to the NFL scouts," said Baptiste. "I was projected from fifth to free agent. A couple of teams even called me during the draft and said they were going to take me. It ended up not working out that way."
With the draft over, Baptiste went back to Texas to wait out the NFL lockout that would drag on for another three months. He worked construction 12 hours a day and worked out at night waiting for the league to get back to business, and for teams to start snapping up rookie free agents.
On Monday, the call came from Chicago, a team that had told Baptiste before the draft they probably would not draft him, but would have interest in him as a free agent.
"They said, 'Are you ready to be a Chicago Bear?'" said Baptiste.
The 22-year-old cleared the deal with his agent and was on his way to join the Bears the following afternoon. He's spent the last two days taking physicals and attending position meetings.
Tomorrow, he'll be on the field with the Bears.
"It's a blessing," said Baptiste. "The journey that I've been through and finally being able to get a chance with the lockout being so long, it's an opportunity that I'm willing to take full advantage of."