The most prominent baseball player ever to come out of the athletic program at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida is Dee Gordon, currently the base-stealing second basemen for the Seattle Mariners. The most prominent football player to arise from the Southeastern program is … to be determined.
It may be Marko Myers who eventually provides the end to that sentence, but at this point Myers is still a relative unknown fighting for a regular-season roster spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He's an undrafted rookie who impressed enough on a tryout contract in the Buccaneers' rookie camp to earn a contract and a shot at training camp. He's also a somewhat undersized corner (5-10, 185) who had a series of interceptions during the team's three weeks of OTA practices.
In short, he's a lot like many of the other young players on the 90-man roster, working hard to learn the playbook and trying to make a positive impression now and then.
Except Myers is unlike most of his young teammates in one way, as he has a chance to blaze a trail for his school, which has never before seen one of its own go on to play in the NFL. There's a simple reason for this: Five years ago, there was no Southeastern football program.
Myers was one of the school's original recruits in 2013 as it built its football team from the ground up. The Fire didn't play in 2013 as they put their team together from an original pool of 100 recruits, and they had neither a home field or their own practice facility at which to work. They utilized a nearby middle school and, at times, the grassy fields of Bonny Park near the Southeastern campus. Myers and his fellow 2013 start-up players – of whom only 11 would end up playing the Fire's full first four seasons – came to be known as the Bonny Park Boys.
Myers chose Southeastern because he had few other options and he liked the school's Christian underpinnings. He had transferred high schools before his senior year and was thus ineligible to play football as a senior, which in turn led to the lack of attention from colleges. Southeastern was close to his home, and he heeded the advice of his grandma, Minnie Davis, to give it a shot.
"Once it was time to go to college I didn't have any offers, so it made sense to go to a school where I could earn a scholarship real quick, then get on the team," said Myers. "Being a Christian, that was a solid foundation as well."
This spring, Southeastern wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez signed with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent, beating Myers to the NFL by a couple weeks. Gonzalez's situation was a bit different, however, as he only transferred to Southeastern last year after previously attending Texas A&M and Kansas. Even if that's splitting hairs, the bigger prize still remains for both of them, either of whom could be first to actually see action in an NFL regular-season game.
"It's important," said Myers of the chance to chart a path for his school. "It's all about your legacy and what you leave behind. Every day adds to that and I try to stay focused so that when it's all said and done everything is part of a great story.
"It's just another thing that I can bring with me, to motivate me. I can do this for the teammates that I played with. It's up to me to fight through the ups and downs, make sure I'm pushing hard, going hard no matter what."
Myers is getting his shot because the Buccaneers had a scout at the Southeastern Fire Pro Day at Victory Field in April, where Myers ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and turned in a vertical leap of 33 inches. That got him an invite to the team's rookie camp, where Buccaneer coaches saw him for the first time.
"I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know about his college," said Secondary Coach Jon Hoke. "One of the scouts showed me a tape and I said that he should definitely be a tryout guy. He’s not very big, but he is very quick, he’s explosive and he’s fast. It’s interesting."
The Buccaneers struggled mightily in pass coverage last season and as such used the draft to add three new defensive backs, including two second-round cornerbacks in M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis. They also re-signed Brent Grimes and are expecting bigger things out of 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves, perhaps as a full-time player in the slot. There is quite a bit of competition at that position looming in training camp, which is why the team only felt the need to sign one undrafted rookie corner this year.
That said, it is difficult to cultivate and keep good cornerback depth, and the Buccaneers are always on the search for talent at that position. Myers' humble football background doesn't really matter to the team if he can prove he belongs on this level. He's off to a nice start with those splash plays in OTAs.
"So far, everything is coming together," said Myers. "It's been day-by-day for me. It's high-speed, high-tempo, but I'm learning the plays as they come to me. Every day I'm getting good experience out here and getting a chance to get better at this level.
"I wouldn't say it's been 'overwhelming,' but it's challenging, yes. You get challenged every day out here because a lot of people know what they're doing already. Me being a newcomer, I have to pick it up and catch up to the speed and play well at the same time. It's been a fun challenge."
The thing about those interceptions in May and June is that coaches aren't likely to remember them in the dog days of training camp. Myers found an unusual way to extend his football playing days into college, taking part in the initial construction of a new college program. He found a way to get his foot in the NFL's door by making the most of a tryout contract with the Buccaneers, and he's solidified his camp spot with a nice spring and early summer.
Now he'll try to find a way to make Southeastern history and be the first Fire player to don an NFL jersey in the regular season. The key isn't to pick off a pass every now and then, it's to consistently be where's supposed to be, snap after snap.
"If you're solid and you're doing what you're supposed to do, the plays are going to come," said Myers. "So that's what I focus on. I focus on being in the right position and getting the right insight from my coaches to make sure I'm where I'm supposed to be to help the team. Once you're in position, you can make a play."
Now Myers is in position to blaze a new trail, for him and his college program.