Monday, March 04, 2024

10 NFL Players Who Actually Never Played College Football


When it comes to the NFL, only the best of the best, truly can compete in this league.  Most of the NFL’s talent comes from your typical Division One college, while other rare talent arrives from Division Two, Division Three, or NAIA colleges.  However, every so often there comes along a rare player who does not follow the typical path into the NFL.  It is the rare few who impact the sport without playing a single snap of college football. 

Here are 10 players who made it in the NFL but skipped the college route:

Ray Seals

Seals is a former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, from 1989 until 1993.  Seals managed to find his way onto an NFL roster with never playing college football.  Before joining the Bucs, in 1988, Seals played for the Syracuse Express, in the Empire Football League.  Seals brought his talent to Tampa the following year.  In 1994 Seals joined the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he got to play in Super Bowl 30.  Seals finished his NFL career in 1997 with the Carolina Panthers.  Overall, Seals made the best of his time in the NFL and proved anything is possible.

Stephen Neal

Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida on February 6, 2005. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Neal is a former offensive guard who played 10 seasons for the New England Patriots.  He was on the rosters that won Super Bowls 36, 38, and 39, respectively.  Before all of that, Neal was actually on the wrestling team at California State University Bakersfield, a college that does not even have football.  Neal had an outstanding wrestling career in college, winning two gold medals at the NCAA Division One championships and gold medals at the World Wrestling Championships and Pan American Games.  Neal originally signed with the Patriots in July 2001 until he was released in August 2001.  He then had a brief stop with the Philadelphia Eagles before rejoining the Patriots in December 2001 where the rest is history.  He helped protect the GOAT of all quarterbacks, Tom Brady during his time in the NFL.

Antonio Gates

Gates is a soon-to-be Hall of Fame tight end who spent his entire football career playing for the San Diego/ Los Angeles Chargers.  Before embarking on his, Hall of Fame caliber, football career, Gates was on the hardwood, playing college basketball, at Kent State University.  During his junior year at Kent State, Gates helped the Golden Flashes appear in the 2002 NCAA Tournament, where the team made a run to the Elite Eight before getting knocked out by the three-seeded Pitt Panthers.  After college, Gates was told was too short for the NBA and then decided to give the NFL a try.  He tried out for the Chargers, where he became part of history.  Gates became an eight-time Pro Bowler with the Bolts and was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame.  Talk about one heck of a career.

Brandon Aubrey

Aubrey is the placekicker for the Dallas Cowboys.  But before Aubrey took his talent to the football field, he was a soccer player, who played college soccer at Notre Dame.  Aubrey then signed with Toronto FC of Major League Soccer in 2017.  He then was on the MLS Next Pro League, for two seasons with Toronto FC II and Bethlehem Steel FC.  After his soccer career ended, his wife encouraged him to give field goal kicking in football a try, after watching a game where the kicker missed making a field goal.  After years of coaching, Aubrey was drafted in the USFL Draft by the Birmingham Stallions, where he played for two seasons until he joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2023.  During the 2023 season, Aubrey made 36 of 38 field goals and 49 of 52 extra points.  Not bad, for a guy who started out as a soccer player.

Sav Rocca

Rocca is a former Australian rules footballer, who spent 15 years in the Australian Football League, before taking his talents to the NFL, as a punter.  Rocca played for the Collingwood Football Club and the North Melbourne Football Club Kangaroos and was a seven-time leading goal kicker with Collingwood, and a three-time leading goal kicker in North Melbourne.  Rocca joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007 and earned the honor of, the Oldest Rookie of the Year, at the time.   Rocca later joined Washington, from 2011 until 2013 and finished his brief NFL career with 517 punts.  Rocca rejoined the AFL in 2015 with the Carlton Football Club, as a mentor for new athletes, and became a coach with the team from 2016 until 2020.  What a career for this Australian footballer!

Michael Lewis

Lewis is a former wide receiver and kick returner for the New Orleans Saints, from 2000 until 2006.  Lewis never played college football. In fact, he only played one year of high school football, as he had to help support his family, during this time period.  Lewis’ football career began while working as a truck driver, when a friend of his introduced him to flag football.  From there, Lewis then pursued playing semi-professional football and played with some arena league teams, until the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a call. 

Unfortunately, Lewis’ time with the Eagles was short as he was cut before the regular season began, but the Saints signed Lewis at the end of the 2000 season.  In 2002, Lewis had his best season in the Big Easy, as a kick returner with 1,807 yards, scored two touchdowns, as a punt returner with 625 yards and scored a touchdown, and earned himself a trip to the Pro Bowl.   Lewis later played with the San Francisco 49ers in 2007 and became a team ambassador to the Saints in 2009 (which he still holds today).  The Saints presented Lewis with a Super Bowl 44 ring for his contributions to the team.  An amazing story!

Efe Obada

Obada is currently a defensive end for the Washington Commanders, and he also never played a snap of college football, in his life.  Obada was born in Nigeria and raised in the Netherlands and England, where at one point Obada and his sister found themselves experiencing homelessness.  Obada was able to turn that around and support his family, by working as a security guard.  Obada’s football career began when he played for the London Warriors of the BAFA National League in 2014. 

After his year with the Warriors, defensive football coach Aden Durde helped Obada land a workout with the Dallas Cowboys.  Obada eventually joined the Cowboys’ practice squad.  He bounced around the league in 2016 until finding a home with the Carolina Panthers from 2017 until 2020.  Obada later joined the Buffalo Bills in 2021 and then signed with the Washington Commanders in 2022.  Obada’s story is one of triumph over adversity, which should be made into a movie!

Rico Gathers

Unlike a lot of people on this list, Gathers was drafted into the NFL Draft.  Gathers started his athletic career playing college basketball for the Baylor Bears.  He averaged 11.6 points per game, 11.6 rebounds per game, 1.2 steals, and one block per game as a junior power forward on the team.  Gathers informed then-Baylor football coach Art Briles of his interest in joining the football team, but changed his mind and declared for the NFL Draft after the Bears lost in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament to the Yale Bulldogs.  Gathers got drafted in 217th overall, in the sixth round of the NFL Draft- to the Dallas Cowboys.  Gathers played for the Dallas Cowboys from 2016 until 2018 and had a brief stop with the Cleveland Browns in 2019.  Unfortunately, injuries and off-the-field trouble kept Gathers’ action limited in the NFL.

Vince Papale

Papale was the subject of the Disney biopic “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg and has an amazing back story.  Papale attended college at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia and was on a track scholarship.  The Hawks haven’t had a football team since 1939.  Papale won a United States Track and Field Federation college pole vault, as a junior, at Madison Square Garden, with a vault of 14 feet and six inches.  Papale changed direction and his professional football journey began with stops in minor league football teams, like the Aston Green Knights of the Seaboard Football League, and then the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League for two seasons. 

After his stint with the Bell, Papale joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 and became the oldest rookie, at the time, at 30 years old.  Papale played for the Eagles for three seasons before a shoulder injury derailed his career and he became a broadcaster for eight years before transitioning to a commercial mortgage banker.  Talk about one of the most incredible sports stories out there.

Eric Swann

Swann was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, but there was a catch, like the rest of the list, Swann never college football.  Swann was supposed to play college ball at North Carolina State University but was ruled academically ineligible at the time.  Instead, Swann chose to go the semi-professional route by joining a team called the Bay State Titans in Lynn, MA.  After his time with the Bay State Titans, Swann was drafted sixth overall in the first round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Phoenix Cardinals.  Swann became a two-time Pro Bowler during his time in the desert and his brief season with the Carolina Panthers.  He racked up 46.5 sacks, three safeties, eight fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and one defensive touchdown.  Not bad for a guy that never played collegiate football.


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