When the National Football League holds the 2013 NFL Draft later this month in New York City, a handful of the top college prospects will be present to hear their name, walk out on stage to shake NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's hand and celebrate the start of their pro football careers.
Robert Steeples, a Florissant native, knows that's not the path he'll take.
Steeples, a De Smet Jesuit graduate in 2008, redshirted his freshman year at the University of Missouri and played sparingly at defensive back for the Tigers before graduating in 2012. Under NCAA rules, he was able to transfer and play immediately at Memphis, where he completed his eligibility, starting 10 games this past season.
The same bedroom posters featuring longtime NFL cornerback Champ Bailey and boxing legend Muhammad Ali, which Steeples used for motivation when he had only a few college scholarship offers, are still there to fuel his ambition to play in the NFL. He has a fountain of inspiring quotes at his disposal.
"....if you want it, go get it...."
"...when you're not working, someone else is..."
"...the worst thing a man can live with is regrets..."
Steeples was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in February, an opportunity to run drills and interview with coaches and executives. The workouts are often derided as being the "underwear olympics" because they measure attributes in sterile settings with spandex instead of a uniform, shoulder pads and a helmet. The setup has allowed "workout warriors" whose performance on the field in college get outweighed by their combine workouts, flop once they reach the NFL and face competition.
He did start in a postseason all-star game that got him in front of NFL scouts.
Since then, Steeples has been working out at Elite Performance Academy in Chesterfield. He had his own chance to impress NFL teams at a University of Memphis workout where players went through many of the Combine drills and workouts on their own terms and in shorts, not football uniforms. In the rain, Steeples' agent clocked him running a 4.39 40-yard dash. A scout clocked him at 4.42. In a business where speed is at a premium, that performance alone could be a difference in getting drafted.
Steeples told Patch he's been in contact with 17 teams on a consistent basis and recently had a private workout with the St. Louis Rams.
"It's just me on the field in front of 20 coaches," he said. "You drop what you're doing & go do it," he said when a club calls for a workout.
He's heard whispers that he could be a late round draft pick, which would be a dream come true, but there are a few schools of thought on what's best for players.
"Getting drafted is good at least you know one team wanted you. After the draft it's a feeding frenzy," former Rams executive and current 101 ESPN Radio NFL Insider Tony Softli said via email. "Teams scramble to sign player immediately and players get lost in the shuffle. It's several days after that agents call to place a player and there just is not room."
The flip side is that once a player knows he isn't getting drafted, it frees up his representatives to evaluate which team would be the best fit for the player's chances to make an NFL roster. Softli said the Rams workout gives Steeples' agent leverage in finding that best opportunity if he goes undrafted.
Either way, Steeples just wants a chance.
"At the end of the day, I just want an opportunity," he said.