A.J. Strum and the city of Detroit were never on the same page. Detroit had its Lions, but Strum followed his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. During his career, Ohio’s football team lost all three of its games at Ford Field.
But now, Strum is taking his mojo to Motown.
Strum became the fifth former Bobcat football player to sign with an NFL team in the past week when he agreed to terms with the Detroit Lions. The five Bobcats this year surpass the four players who signed as free agents before last season.
Former Ohio receiver LaVon Brazill was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday, and Noah Keller, Phil Bates and Paul Hershey signed with the St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.
Each player will attend his team’s rookie mini-camp, most of which will take place next weekend, where they will go through drills and receive their playbooks.
Strum will head to Detroit for the fourth time as a football player, but the first as a professional. He said he might know the facilities at Ford Field from his two Mid-American Conference championship games and one Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but that’s where the familiarity ends.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say ‘comfortable’ because I’m 0-3 at Ford Field,” Strum said. “I’m going to go to Ford Field and fare better than the Bobcats have. When it comes to the coaches, I have no idea what to expect when I get there.”
Strum credited Ohio’s coaching staff and his agent, Bill Parise, for helping him get this opportunity. Parise represents NFL stars such as former Kent State linebacker James Harrison.
“I didn’t need 32 teams to like me. I just need one,” Strum said. “And that’s what I got.”
But another former Ohio standout is still waiting for a team to give him a chance to prove himself.
Wide receiver Riley Dunlop said he was certain he would get a call from an NFL team soon after the draft wrapped up Saturday, but five days later, he’s still waiting.
“I was shocked that I didn’t get a call as soon as the draft was over,” he said. “My agent’s still in contact with some teams. I’m just trying to be patient, and hopefully, something will come around.”
Dunlop had 43 catches for 586 yards and six touchdowns during the 2011 season. Among Ohio receivers, only Brazill had better statistics than Dunlop. Since January, the Cincinnati native has worked out three times a week at the Ignition training facility in his hometown.
Dunlop said he still has his eyes on the NFL and has not even considered looking to the Canadian or Arena football leagues. Teams will continue to sign and release players through training camp in July, so he is confident that he will get a shot somewhere.
“My favorite team my whole life has been the Bengals, but I don’t necessarily want to go there,” Dunlop said. “You just have to be ready when your time comes and take advantage of all the opportunities you can get.”
Another outstanding Bobcat has decided to hang up his cleats and to pursue life off the gridiron. Offensive lineman Joe Flading finished his degree in general business and is at home in Cincinnati pursuing a job in that field. But blocking defensive linemen can be easier than finding employment in this economy.
“Can’t be too choosy with the job market,” he said. “I’m just searching for a lot of different things in the business field.”
Flading, Ohio’s only First Team All-MAC selection last season, attributed his decision to a sense of completeness he felt at the end of last season and figured it was time to move on.
“I had a great time playing for the Bobcats, I loved every second of it, and I just felt like I had done some good things in college,” he said. “But I also pushed really hard in the classroom, and I was ready for a new chapter to begin.”