By Matthew Tabeek
"From the very first time I was here as a three-week intern to a scouting assistant, I felt like I was fully a part of (this organization)."
Rodrik David grew up in a tiny farming town of about 4,000 people in eastern Colorado and played football at a high school with “about 60” in his graduating class, but that never discouraged him from dreaming big – or making it to the National Football League.
As much as David enjoyed wrestling and running track at Burlington High School, football was always his first love. “Like a lot of young guys, I wanted to play in the NFL,” said David, now a pro scout for the Atlanta Falcons. “But I am short, stiff and slow – and have no reservations about that.”
So, yes, there was that small obstacle. And then there was another physical issue: his shoulder. Between football and wrestling, David dislocated his shoulder and eventually had rotator cuff surgery during his sophomore year of high school. Still, issues with his shoulder persisted.
“It was one of those things where it started dislocating and I wasn’t going to give up my senior year,” David said. “It was just a pop-it-back-in-and-go-play situation. And, so, 50 or 60 of those and my labrum was gone.”
Another setback leads to a much bigger opportunity
For most, a re-occurring injury like that would kill any dreams of playing another down of football. But David wanted to play – and did, at Nebraska Wesleyan University, a small Division III school in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Yet, for all the pain and problems his injured shoulder caused him, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. David ended up redshirting during his freshman year of college. And it was during that extra year when David met an adviser who first mentioned the idea of grad school.
While thoughts of playing were gone, working in the NFL and being around the game were not. And David knew that he wanted to be a scout because “I see it so naturally from a personnel perspective.” At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, David didn’t possess great speed or size and he learned to study his opponents more closely to gain any sort of competitive edge.
“I just noticed little things that individual players would do,” he said. “For me playing corner, it was what is a wide receiver doing, what is a quarterback doing if he’s making a certain throw, are his feet a certain way, is he coming out of break a certain way, is he coming out of his stance a certain way.”
David was a natural scout – and knew he wanted to be in the NFL. And he also realized that getting there from a Division III school wasn’t likely. But going to a big school with a good football program and dozens of pro scouts coming through multiple times per year would.
Thanks to some good advice from that adviser at NWU who was “plugged into some good programs,” David applied to five graduate schools and ended up at Ohio State.
Great school, rich tradition, plenty of scouts, but no guarantees
David made it to Columbus in July of 2011 but ended up being a graduate assistant for the rec sports department. Working for the outdoor facilities management, managing baseball fields and helping with intramurals wasn’t exactly what he envisioned, which was working closely with the football program – and meeting NFL personnel men.
“It paid for school, which was fantastic, but …” David said.
So, David began writing weekly emails to the football office, offering to help out the team – anything he could think of to get noticed or make a connection. Then he had an idea: he signed up for a course – introduction to coaching football – as one of his electives.
Shortly thereafter David was meeting people associated with the Buckeyes football program, including the director of football operations and other football graduate assistants. And when an internship with the defensive line opened up in January of 2013, he landed it – and forged a strong working relationship with current Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, who was the defensive line coach for the Buckeyes at the time.
Getting his foot in the door with the Ohio State football program was one of several important steps David took.
One day Vrabel asked David if he would pick someone up at the airport. When he asked who it was, Vrabel said it was Scott Pioli.
“You know, the list of top four or five people in the NFL that you’d want to meet and connect with – his name would be on the list,” David said of Pioli, who is now the assistant general manager of the Falcons. That connection would eventually pay off in a big way.
As it is for anyone trying to break into a field, networking, relationships and reputation are so important. And so is timing.
Over the course of the next two years, David left Ohio State for a six-month internship with the Tennessee Titans, moved back to Ohio (working odd jobs, including construction), interviewed with the Miami Dolphins, took a season-long coaching job at Case Western Reserve University, accepted a three-week training camp internship with the Falcons (thanks to his connection with Pioli), and then returned to coach again at Case Western Reserve.
Then, following the 2015 season, David quickly realized that he made a positive impression on the Falcons when he received another call from Pioli – this time for a scouting assistant position. He jumped at the opportunity and started with the Falcons in February of 2016. And prior to the start of the 2017 season, he was named pro scout.
“From the very first time I was here as a three-week intern to a scouting assistant, I felt like I was fully a part of (this organization),” David said of the Falcons.
“The togetherness here really sticks out. I haven’t experienced an ego in this building, which is really good. Whatever it is – if I say something to a coach or a coordinator, they’re going to at least listen to me. We might disagree, we’re going to have a conversation about it but it’s not, ‘Who are you? Go away.’”
David still has dreams of doing even bigger things in the NFL. But for now, he’s simply focused on being the best at his position – and providing the most accurate information possible on player evaluations, potential free agents and player workouts.
“I’ll say this, I feel like I’m still trying to prove myself every day and earn the title,” David said. “Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli, Joel Collier and every coach that is reading and relying on the information (I’m providing) on players – I’m trying to make sure that whatever they need, they’re fully prepared.”