KYLE FRIEND WANTS TO BE ANOTHER NFL SURVIVOR
EAST RUTHERFORD: The NFL is filled with survivor stories, the most recent and most famous was the story of Kurt Warner, who was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Warner entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 1994 getting cut in training camp.
He then played for the AFL Iowa Barnstormers (1995–1997), NFL Europe’s Amsterdam Admirals (1998), then saw his career take a major turn when he landed in St. Louis (1998–2003) and led the Rams to two trips to the Super Bowl, winning one then going on to win two league MVPs, then a short stint with the New York Giants (2004) before re-inventing himself with Arizona Cardinals (2005–2009) and another trip to the Super Bowl.
Warner is an extreme case but players like offensive linemen like Hank Fraley, Matt Tobin and A. Q. Shipley happen every year.
They are players who looked like they had no chance, then just found a way to hang around and have long careers in the NFL.
Former Temple standout center Kyle Friend hopes to follow in their path.
Friend was deemed too short for major college football coming out of Mechanicsburg (PA) High School in 2011 where he was a two-time first team All-State lineman. But he was generously listed at 6-foot-2 and no D-1 schools came calling except Temple.
Friend proved the big schools wrong by becoming a four-year starter for the Owls and the face of head coach Matt Rhule’s program turnaround from doormat to national relevance.
Friend was again deemed too small, this time by the NFL. On April 30, 2016, Friend signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent following the conclusion of the 2016 NFL Draft.
He became a staple on the NFL waiver wire announcements that year.
On August 28, 2016, Friend was waived by the Jets. He was re-signed to the practice squad on October 26, 2016. He was released by the Jets on November 1, 2016, but was re-signed on December 20, 2016.
On February 14, 2017, Friend was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Friend said he learned from his 2016 experiences and from another NFL survivor on how to hang in there and be patient.
“I talked to A.Q. when I was coming out of college and he said the same thing pretty much,” Friend said of Shipley, who has been collecting NFL paychecks since 2009 from five different NFL franchises. “Everything I went through last year, getting signed and getting cut all those times I have a better idea of the grind that it takes to make it.”
Indeed it seems to be going smoother for Friend this year in Pittsburgh. He listens and takes direction.
“It’s been good,” Friend said. “I went through OTAs, learned the playbook and now I’m working through camp.”
He is listed at No.2 on the Steelers depth chart at center behind B.J. Finney. Does that add confidence?
“I just show up and try to do the best I can, play the best football I can and see what happens,” Friend said.
Friend laughed when it was brought up that teams are not obligated to cut any players until after the last preseason game…is that a good thing? “I guess so yeah.”
Is he getting a better look?
“I don’t know, I’m just doing what I’m told. I don’t like to look ahead.”
Another thing Friend said he was NOT doing this year was looking at the depth chart and counting players. “It’ll kill ya man,” Friend said shaking his head.
Friend said he knew he had to get bigger. With massive defensive tackles like Eagles Fletcher Cox, Miami’s Ndamukong Suh, Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins and Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey pounding the middle of the line for 60 minutes, lightweight centers are not the thing anymore in the NFL.
Friend has been generously listed at 305 pounds since his sophomore year at Temple.
“I had to gain some weight,” Friend said. “I gained about 15-20 pounds.” eye test puts emphasis on 20 pounds. Friend looks like he is tipping the scale at 320 pounds.
He has also learned to focus on the present, and that’s it.
“Taking it day by day.”
And living to survive another day.
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii