Fever DE Killeen gets shot at the big time

January 19, 2013 

Jake Killeen knows he’s not the fastest or strongest guy out on a football field.

But he has a lot of heart, and he knew he had just this one chance in a special workout to make an impression on the Indianapolis Colts. It worked, as the Colts signed the 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end to a futures contract Jan. 8 after the tryout.

“It’s strange,” said Killeen. “I never thought I could get this opportunity.”

He got it through new Fever assistant coach Leroy Thompson, who used to work for the Colts and sent them some Fever game film of Killeen in action.

Killeen had the stats. He was named first-team All-Indoor Football League last season, getting 10.5 quarterback sacks, forcing three fumbles and getting one interception.

The Colts liked what they saw on the film and flew Killeen out to Indianapolis.

“One of their scouts and I conversed a bit about Jake,” said Fever head coach Adam Shackleford. “But I give a lot of credit to Coach Thompson. And Jake deserves a lot of credit.”

He’ll take it.

“This has always been my goal (playing in the NFL),” said Killeen, 26. “I thought this season I was set to play for the Fever. But it’s hard when you’re 26 years old trying to survive on $250 a week.”

He showed up there on a Monday at the Indianapolis airport, where the Colts picked him up, along with a young receiver who had spent time in the Canadian Football League.

Killeen asked to get his ankles taped before the workout.

“They sent me into the trainer’s room,” Killeen said. “To my left was Andrew Luck. To my right was Reggie Wayne. I was just trying to stay cool.”

The workout didn’t begin well.

“We did Combine stuff,” said Killeen. “The 40, the shuttle run, the bench press. I did pretty bad on all of the combine stuff. I was depressed.”

But during some down time, one of the Colts officials told him not to worry: they had flown him out based on the Fever game film they had seen, and they wanted to see if he was for real.

“Then we ran through some defensive line stuff in drills and linebacker drills,” he said.

Coaches were holding the bags, and Killeen was to hit the bags en route to rushing the quarterback.

“I knew I didn’t have any pads on, but I knew I had to make an impression,” said Killeen. “I was knocking the coaches over. One coach got mad. But I said it was the only speed I know. He said ‘OK, you might as well bruise up the other side of my chest too.’”

After the drills, a Colts assistant said “You killed it man. They loved you.”

For Killeen, the experience was surreal.

“I met (head coach) Chuck Pagano,” he said. “He asked my how my dad was. My dad had had cancer. I asked how did he know, and Pagano said that they do their homework. He was really down to earth. He said ‘It was a pleasure having you here. ’

“The general manager (Ryan Grigson) told me ‘We really liked what we saw. That was one of the hardest, most aggressive workouts we’ve ever seen here. We want to stay in touch with you, have a great season (with the Fever) and don’t get hurt.’”

But once an NFL team brings in a player for a workout, it has to notify the other 31 NFL teams of his name.

Killeen said he showered and got dressed before he was summoned back to the Colts’ top brass.

Grigson told Killeen they were too scared to let him go, fearing another team might grab him.

So they set him up for a complete physical that lasted hours.

“I had five to six different kinds of blood work tests, an EKG. I was tested for concussion,” Killeen said.

The results were all good, and the Colts signed him to a futures contract.

The 2013 NFL season doesn’t officially begin until March 12, but teams can sign a limited number of players not on another NFL roster to a contract based on the future playing potential.

He signed the standard three-year rookie contract, in which a player makes $400,000 the first year; $550,000 the second; and $680,000 the third.

He did the math.

“That’s $25,000 a week per game over 17 weeks,” Killeen said. “It’s $6,000 a week for guys on the practice squad.”

Of course, to earn any money in the NFL, you have to be on the team’s roster when the regular season begins.

Right now, he’s on the team’s 90-man roster. The next goal is to make the 53-man roster.

“My foot is through the door,” he said. “They really seem like a good organization.”

In May, he’ll go to the Colts’ rookie camp, and in July, hopefully the preseason camp.

“They’re thinking of me as an outside linebacker,” Killeen said. “I stand up at defensive end, with most of the time I’m rushing trying to get quarterback sacks.”

Linebacker won’t be foreign to him.

“I’ve played linebacker most of my life,” he said. “All through high school I played it. But I overpursued the ball carrier a lot in high school, which is why they moved me to defensive end.”

Now back in the Tri-Cities, he’s back into a daily routine: Two hours a day at the gym, then over to former Fever teammate Steven Whitehead’s gym for more work.

“In April, my agent wants me to go out to Chicago to work out with some pros,” he said.

His signing has been the talk among Indoor Football league players.

“The IFL is a close-knit league,” Killeen said. “After a couple of years, you’re friends with everyone on Facebook. I had multiple people tell me congratulations. One guy said ‘You making it right now gives me the inspiration to keep going.’”

Shackleford says it’s a signing well deserved.

“We’re thrilled for him,” he said. “It’s just a great story of a guy who has persevered in this league.”

And it confirmed to Killeen that hard work sometimes does pay off.

“They say it’s very rare for an NFL team to sign you the day of the workout,” Killeen said. “I must’ve done something right. I knew I couldn’t hold anything back, because I knew this was my only shot.”

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