Undrafted Gophers seek NFL roster spot

Minnesota defensive lineman Cameron Botticellli celebrates after a play on Thursday evening against Eastern Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium.

Daily File Photo, Amanda Snyder

Minnesota defensive lineman Cameron Botticellli celebrates after a play on Thursday evening against Eastern Illinois at TCF Bank Stadium.

Grant Donald

Cameron Botticelli wasn’t offered a football scholarship when he arrived at the University of Minnesota. Isaac Fruechte started his collegiate career at Rochester Community and Technical College, and Derrick Wells missed time his junior year due to injury.
 
But even with the adversity the former Gophers had to face   throughout their collegiate careers, all three accomplished their childhood dream of making it to the NFL — even if it wasn’t the way they hoped.
 
“You definitely dream of one day answering the phone and an NFL team that wants to draft you is on the other line,” Wells said. He signed as a safety with the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. “Even though I wasn’t drafted, an NFL team still called, and I still have a chance to pursue my dream.”
 
A week before Wells signed with the Buccaneers, Fruechte, a wide receiver, signed with the Minnesota Vikings after attending their rookie minicamp.
 
But it was Botticelli, a defensive lineman, who was the first undrafted Minnesota player to sign with an NFL team. Just hours after the draft was completed Botticelli was a San Diego Charger.
 
“It was definitely a roller coaster of emotions,” Botticelli said. “My agent was getting calls from teams while the draft was still going on, so I thought there was a chance my name would be called.”
 
Even though the undrafted free agents signed with NFL teams, that doesn’t ensure that come September their names will be on NFL rosters.
 
All three players will have to make it through a series of cuts that will start in August when NFL teams decrease their roster sizes from 90 players to 53.
 
If they do end up getting cut, they can still find a job on a practice squad or search for positions in other leagues — like the Canadian Football League — to play in. 
 
“I’m not even considering what would happen [if I get cut],” Wells said. “When you need to fight for all the playing time you can get, you can’t afford to think like that.”
 
At the same time, there are plenty of undrafted free agents who have illustrious careers in the NFL such as Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.
 
Botticelli arguably has the best chance of all three former Gophers to make a 53-man roster. 
 
Heading into the draft, the Chargers had a perceived need on the defensive line but didn’t address the position until the sixth round. With that in mind, the former
walk-on should get an opportunity to climb the depth chart and solidify his spot on the team.
 
“Cameron is my type of guy,” Gophers head coach Jerry Kill said in a statement following Botticelli’s signing. “He is going to be in the right gap and give you 110 percent. He is the kind of guy you want on your team.”
 
While Botticelli will benefit from a thin position group, Wells and Fruechte are excited to be auditioning for teams in their home states.
 
For Fruechte, that means trying to become the Vikings’ next undrafted free agent success story — following in the footsteps of Adam Thielen and Minnesota alum Marcus Sherels.
 
“Knowing that those two had success with the Vikings is definitely reassuring,” Fruechte said. “But nothing is handed to you. I have to go out and earn that roster spot.”