Anthony Cotrone had no time to be disappointed the evening of Sunday, April 27, as the 2008 NFL draft came to an end without him hearing his name called. Cotrone had to make a decision about his future, quickly.
Eric Mangini of the New York Jets was on the line, the head coach of the team Cotrone grew up rooting for as a Long Island resident. Jaguars running backs coach Kennedy Pola was also waiting for an answer. They wanted Cotrone to sign with their respective clubs as a free agent.
Cotrone weighed the decision with his parents, Louis and Dianne. He had only visited three teams prior to the draft; the Jaguars, Jets and Giants. The chance to play professionally near his hometown, Valley Stream, was enticing. His parents never missed a game at the University of Maine, making the nearly nine-hour drive each weekend. It would be less than an hour away for his parents to Giants Stadium.
Cotrone decided on Jacksonville.
"Coach (Mike) Tice, coach (Dirk) Koetter and coach (Kennedy) Pola and the whole staff made me feel real comfortable down here," Cotrone said. "I felt like they were honest with me in the way they wanted to use me in the offense. I felt like it would be a really good fit for me. I'm a pounder (type) fullback and I can do that in this offense."
The opportunity with the Jaguars allowed him to reunite with his former teammate, Montell Owens. Cotrone and Owens are part of a recent surge of Maine football players making it into the NFL. The program has had at least one player either drafted or signed as a free agent by an NFL team in each of the last four years.
In 2007, Maine led all Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) schools with seven former players in the NFL. Alumni include Seattle's Lofa Tatupu, Atlanta's Daren Stone, Stephen Cooper of San Diego and Mike Flynn of Baltimore.
"I would credit it to the coaching staff at Maine," Owens said. "They have really come around and they knew what it took for that caliber of guy to get here. They coached us up."
Cotrone is hoping to duplicate the success of Owens, who has played in 30 games since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2006 and has quickly become one of the Jaguars' top special teams performers.
"I'm not surprised at all," Cotrone said. "The kid has something in him that not many people have. He has passion and his dedication is easy to see with the regimen he does every day. I try to follow what Montell does."
Cotrone will have to make his mark as a fullback and hope to add more value as a special teams player. It was a similar situation at Maine when Cotrone and Owens battled for time in the backfield.
Cotrone, 6-2, 260, was recruited as a quarterback out of Holy Trinity High School, but switched to H-back prior to the start of the 2005 season.
"The opportunity wasn't there and I went to coach and I told him anything I could do to help the team," Cotrone said. "It was the best decision of my life."
Owens didn't start until his senior season in 2005 and he remembers the switch.
"The coach would always get on him about being overweight," Owens said. "I remember coming back my senior year and they had moved him to H-back. He was always a great athlete with a good arm. We were kind of thin in a lot of areas so it was better for the team to move him. It wasn't because he wasn't a great quarterback."
In his last two seasons, Cotrone rushed 24 times for 126 yards and was not tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Maine finished in the top four in the conference in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
Owens is now passing along his knowledge much like Fred Taylor did for him in 2006.
"He opened up his house for me to come down early," Cotrone said. "Montell is a great guy, he's something special. He went out and bought a white board for me so we could go over plays."
The Jaguars concluded mini-camp last weekend and have three OTA practices remaining this week. Owens and Cotrone spend their mornings together in running backs meetings and will get together off the field for more review.
"I was talking to my dad last week and I was telling him that Anthony was making some of the same mistakes I made when I came in," Owens said. "He's going through the same growing pains. I told him I was going to be open arms to him. We are going to feed off each other and that's the beauty of it."
The real test begins in late July with the start of training camp and the first time the rookies will don pads.
"There is nothing you can do to prepare for training camp," Owens said. "What I told Anthony is that a lot of training camp is physical, but the hardest part to understand is the mental aspect. That is the time you start to see guys fizzling off. You might go out there one day and not get any reps. You wonder, 'Man, I didn't get any reps. What's going on? Do they want to release me?' That is what affects your game.
"It may not be because you are tired. It may be that your mind is not where it needs to be. I told him you have to have your mind ready for training camp. If your mind is right and your level is right, you're not too high or too low, you are going to do great."
Cotrone will heed his mentor's advice.
"It's been a dream just being out here every day," Cotrone said. "Sitting here today, I'm still in awe sitting next to Fred (Taylor), Maurice (Jones-Drew) and Greg Jones. Hopefully I can extend my career here, which I would love to do. It's something I dreamed about as a kid."