Pete Ittersagen took a pay cut and left behind a lucrative lawn-mowing business to sign a free-agent contract with the Jaguars. Minimum wage for a rookie, of course, would buy a lot of lawn mowers and really help grow the business.
Welcome to the world of an erstwhile and ambitious non-scholarship, Division III football player. Most players use football to subsidize life. Ittersagen used his life to subsidize football.
"You gotta pay for your tuition. You have to find a job to create value. When I was in high school, I had to pay for my car and for my insurance, so I started pushing lawn mowers around the neighborhood," Ittersagen said following practice on Tuesday, another solid OTAs effort by the effervescent cornerback from Wheaton College.
Ittersagen had no significant college scholarship offers coming out of high school. He went to Butler University to play baseball, which he did for a year. He also experienced a growth spurt that saw him put on two inches and 30 pounds, and that caused him to go back home to Wheaton, Ill., and give football a shot.
"At the Division III level, he was a dominant player," Jaguars GM Gene Smith said.
By the time Ittersagen graduated from Wheaton last December, he had built his lawn-mowing company, "Falcon Landscaping," into a five-figure money-maker. In the true spirit of American business, however, Ittersagen would not provide more details of his company's profitability.
It was a business he started at age 14 using his father's lawnmower. With the money he saved from cutting grass, he bought a car and a trailer at 16. In college, the business had grown into six lawnmowers and three employees.
"I paid them well; $12 an hour. They were friends," Ittersagen said.
Following graduation in Business Economics, he spent the winter shoveling snow – "That was just pocket change," he said – and then signed with the Jaguars following the draft, leaving him with a decision to make on the landscaping company.
"I gave it to some current Wheaton College players," Ittersagen said.
He also arranged to retain the rights to the company, just in case this pro football thing didn't work out. A couple of months into the football thing, however, it looks like it might have a future.
Through five mini-camp practices and eight OTAs, Ittersagen has been impressive. On Tuesday, he flashed his quick feet and coverage skill in matching Nate Hughes step for step down the sideline. The ball was slightly underthrown, however, and Hughes outjumped Ittersagen for the ball. At 5-10, Ittersagen would seem to be more of a candidate for the inside or "nickel" position.
"It's fun. Football is my passion. It's what drives me. Every time I wake up it's exciting knowing I'm part of this," said Ittersagen, who isn't intimidated in the least by the jump from Division III to the NFL.
"Real heady, quick feet and a quick mind," Smith said in offering a scouting report on Ittersagen. "He's certainly adjusted to the speed of the NFL game. He's got to compete to make the roster. He's got to show versatility that he can play inside and outside at corner."
Does he think he has a shot to make the team?
"I think so. I do," Ittersagen said. "I just have to keep getting my hands on balls."
"Pete has a chance as a scrappy corner. We'll see when the pads go on how he holds up," coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Jaguars' rookies continue to impress. The young receivers were sharp, again, and top picks Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton are clearly competing to be the Jaguars' starting tackles.
Asked if that could happen, Del Rio said: "If they earn it. They have to earn that. I can visualize that happening. I can envision a lot of things happening. We'll let that play out. There will be battles across the board."
Rookie wide receiver Tiquan Underwood sustained a hamstring injury late in Tuesday's practice. Defensive tackle John Henderson (shoulder) did not participate.