ANN ARBOR — When he realized he had a future as a contributor with the Michigan football team, Jordan Kovacs realized something else: He had a shot as a professional football player. That came to fruition in April of 2013, when Kovacs signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent.
Less than three weeks ago, the former Michigan captain and Clay graduate finished his first season with the Dolphins, and it wasn’t a typical rookie season. Kovacs’ first year in the workforce included sustaining and recovering from a leg injury during training camp, two call-ups from the practice squad that sandwiched a November demotion, as well as a well-publicized locker-room bullying controversy surrounding Miami offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin that gained national attention.
During the whirlwind, Kovacs reminded himself of something that former Michigan teammate J.T. Floyd used to say to him.
“What was most important was to stay at an even keel throughout the entire process, through everything,” said Kovacs. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed or intimidated, but I thought about what J.T. would say. I’d ask him how it was going for him during a camp and he’d say to me, ‘Steady as it goes, man. Never too high, never too low.’ ”
Less than a week after Miami’s season ended with a 20-7 loss to the New York Jets, Kovacs returned last week to Ann Arbor, where he will train with Michigan strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman, along with former Michigan players Denard Robinson and Will Campbell. Robinson completed his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Campbell completed his first season with the New York Jets and is making the transition from the defensive line to the offensive line.
At the advice of his veteran teammates, including former St. John’s Jesuit and Michigan State punter Brandon Fields, Kovacs said he plans to take three weeks off before he resumes training — in likely his first true offseason.
“This season really was for me to get my feet wet,” Kovacs said. “I went into the season with the goal of making the practice squad, and I told myself, ‘If I can get four games in [a credited season], I’ll be good.’
“Seeing how the guys live and how the guys carry themselves, I’ve seen the business side of the sport, and that guys are playing for a livelihood. That’s what’s tough about that transition. Your whole life, it’s been a game and you’re still enjoying it, but there are times you think, ‘Am I going to make it to next week’s paycheck?’ ”
Per the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, practice squad players in 2013 earned $6,000 a week. If a player is activated to the 53-man roster, he receives the equivalent of three weeks’ salary of the contract he signed or the league minimum; per the CBA, the NFL’s minimum rookie salary in 2013 was $405,000.
Called up to the Dolphins’ 53-man roster on Oct. 5, Kovacs played in four games, primarily on special teams, before he was cut Nov. 11.
That transaction required a 24-hour waiver period, which meant that any team could claim Kovacs before the Dolphins re-signed him and returned him to the practice squad.
Those 24 hours, Kovacs said, were nerve-wracking. If another team opted to sign Kovacs within that window, it meant he would be on a plane to the next city in a matter of hours. No team claimed Kovacs, who re-joined Miami’s practice squad two days later.
The Dolphins again added Kovacs to the 53-man roster the day before Thanksgiving, and he played in the final five regular-season games.
Kovacs said his next goal in the NFL is to prove his versatility, that he can play on both special teams and at safety, where he played at Michigan.
“I’ve got to put myself in a position to where the coaches want to make me into a safety,” Kovacs said. “What’s interesting in the pros is that if you’re not versatile or valuable, you’re expendable,” he said. “The key is to make yourself valuable, and now I have to find a way to do that.”
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