JACKSONVILLE – We're back with another written version of the Shadrick Sighting, and this week we talk farming with practice squad quarterback Jeff Tuel.
That's right, farming. Almonds and grapes, to be exact.
A few weeks ago, right after the Jaguars signed Tuel to the practice squad, I asked him in passing in the locker room what he did for the previous month-plus away from football.
"I spoke on the phone with a guy who farms almonds, and we were supposed to meet the day I came here, so that got cut short," Tuel said.
"You've got to kill time, so stay in shape and meet about the future."
Not quite the "I worked out" answer that I expected. Who knew that almond prices are soaring?
As I found out quickly in our 10-15 minute conversation, Tuel has a keen interest in agriculture and it comes from his upbringing. His hometown of Fresno, California is located in the heart of California's Central Valley, one of the most productive farming regions in the world.
"I'm interested in it, and because my home is in the Central Valley it would be crazy not to kind of learn about it and get into it," Tuel said. "My dad works for a real big irrigation company, so he knows a lot of people and a lot of people reached out to him wanting to meet with me to see what I want to do and kind of wanted me on their team, which was cool."
Tuel was waived by the Jaguars on August 29 and signed to the practice squad October 13. In that time, he had a few other interviews in the agricultural sector.
"I met with a solar company that only deals with agricultural businesses, dairy or growers or anything along those lines, and they basically try to cut these farmers' costs in half," Tuel said. "I've been going in as a project manager, business development, sales, so I had an interview with them and it went well.
"Also met with a gentleman that sells water pumps and does really well doing that, and he wanted me to start as the Central California regional guy there and then branch out to the West Coast and who knows from there."
While not interviewing in the agricultural sector, Tuel kept the hope alive of another NFL contract by staying in shape, and throwing the football, in any way and to anybody he could.
"Either my dad or my fiancée, believe it or not," Tuel said. "I've told Oley (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) this, she just sets up (on the field) and holds a pillow from the bedroom, and I just put her in places of routes and I throw it to her and she can literally catch it with a pillow. That's a true story."
That's life for an undrafted quarterback from Washington State, who started his career with the Buffalo Bills. Tuel was on the Bills' active roster the entire 2013 season with two games and one start. His debut came in the third quarter of the October 3, 2013 game against the Cleveland Browns after starter E.J. Manuel left the game with an injury. His lone NFL start was November 3, 2013 against Kansas City.
In 2014, Tuel spent the entire season on the Bills practice squad. When the Bills waived him in late May, the Jaguars were awarded Tuel on a waiver claim. He then worked with the Jaguars in training camp, but was among the final cuts before the regular season.
When the need arose to bring in a practice squad quarterback to take some reps, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said a few things worked in Tuel's favor.
"One, he's had experience, he's played and started in some games," Bradley said. "Two, that's what you're looking for in that quarterback, any guy that can pick things up really quick can be beneficial in that quarterback meeting room because of that experience. Also, he's flexible for us. He's played safety, he's played corner. We put him all over the place. His attitude, his intelligence, his experience, all those things I think make him really valuable for us.
"He kind of just rolls up his sleeves, whatever his role is, he goes and does and he does it all really well."
Tuel is in the midst of his second practice squad season, and current league rules allow a player three seasons of practice squad eligibility.
Three seasons. According to Tuel, that's the same time it takes an almond tree to reach full maturity to produce nuts.
With the volatility at the bottom of NFL rosters, the future can change quickly for an originally undrafted quarterback on the practice squad.
"Football's not going to last forever, any way you look at it," Tuel said. "I'm not going to play forever. Some guys may go on to coach, but nobody's going to play forever and those that are fortunate enough to have the eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve-year careers, they can do it. I'm going to plan for the future and what may come.
"(I'm) just going by it day-by-day, just wherever the good Lord takes me I go."
Jaguars in the community
The Jaguars teamed with Dreams Come True for a private tour of the Jaguars' locker room at EverBank Field Tuesday evening, led by Jaguars left tackle Luke Joeckel, defensive end Jared Odrick and long snapper Carson Tinker.
A group of kids battling life-threatening illnesses and their families were shown the locker room, training room, weight room and team meeting rooms, with behind-the-scenes detail from the players.
"These kids are going through some hard times, but still to be this excited and happy about it kind of makes you feel like you're doing something," Joeckel said. "Just trying to be there for these kids is very important."
For Tinker, it goes back to something Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said in the past.
"Coach Bradley always says, 'If you could give somebody ten seconds of happiness, why wouldn't you?'" Tinker said. "I think it's just really cool to come up here and see these kids' faces light up and that reminds me of kind of why I do this. I'm really fortunate to get to do this."
Dreams Come True is a Jacksonville-based non-profit dedicated to granting dreams for local children with life-threatening illnesses.
"I've been blessed with so many different things… My dad and my grandpa always said, 'For those who are given much, much is expected.'" Joeckel said. "You've got to give back to the kids, give back to the people who were not given all the many blessings I was thankful to have."
For more information, visit www.dreamscometrue.org.