Earning a spot on a National Football League roster is a huge longshot.
That’s why University of Maine football fans during the last 15 years or so have been so proud that several former Black Bears have played at the game’s highest level.
There have been numerous UMaine products who have had at least a cup of coffee in the NFL, but precous few who enjoyed the success and longevity of a career such as the one put together by former offensive lineman Mike Flynn.
He played with the Baltimore Ravens for the majority of 12 seasons, including their run to the Super Bowl championship in 2000. Flynn played in 134 career games and made 115 starts.
That places him among the rarest of the rare among former Black Bears.
This week, there are two UMaine players on NFL rosters — Enfield native Matt Mulligan, who is a tight end with Buffalo (6th season), and Mike DeVito, a defensive lineman with the Kansas City Chiefs (9th season).
Cornerback Kendall James (Cleveland) and tight end Justin Perillo (Green Bay) are members of their teams’ practice squads.
And the fact former UMaine stars reached the NFL coming out of the Football Championship Subdivision, the second tier of NCAA Division I football, makes the accomplishment even more meaningful.
In 21-plus seasons covering UMaine football, I have often heard many Black Bear players talk about their hopes for playing in the NFL — often as though it was almost an eventuality. That includes not only all-conference-caliber athletes, but some less-heralded players who don’t seem to grasp the difficulty of making the next step.
I was reminded of this dynamic by an eye-catching Facebook post on the page of former UMaine defensive standout and strength coach Matt King, who is now working at Columbia University. He posted a photo (shown below) of a poster featuring statistics from a 2013 NCAA study that reveals some shocking numbers about how few players reach the NFL.
Among the key numbers are:
NCAA football players (in a given year) — 70,147
NCAA freshmen playing football — 20,042
Players scouted by the NFL — 6,500
Players invited to NFL combine — 350
Players drafted by the NFL — 256
Rookies who make an NFL team — 300
Percentage of NCAA players who reach the NFL — 1.6
NFL players who reach their fourth year in the league — 150
If you’re lucky enough to be one of the 6.5 percent of high school players to compete in the NCAA, and among the 1.5 percent of that group to make it to the NFL, you’ll be lucky to get three years out of it.
And the after-tax portion of the NFL minimum salary ($435,000 this year) for three years (approximately $783,000 combined) won’t be enough to live on for the rest of one’s life.
The message on the bottom of the graphic reads, “What’s going to provide for you and your family after football is over? YOUR COLLEGE EDUCATION!”
Thankfully, that is precisely the message that is delivered over and over by UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff — and likely at the majority of programs at all levels of the college game.