That was the question Austin Droogsma asked himself when he saw the New York Giants were calling him. Were they trying to sell him tickets? Had he won some sort of contest? Maybe it was just a wrong number?
Surely they didn’t want him to play football, a sport he had excelled at in high school but abandoned to become one of the NCAA's top shot putters at Florida State.
Actually, that was exactly what they wanted. And by the time Droogsma hung up the phone and the conversation this past spring ended, he had agreed to sign with them as a free agent. And he had a different question.
“If nothing else, it’s a great experience,” he told Newsday. “It’s just an awesome experience.”
Droogsma’s experience ended on Monday when he was waived by the team after struggling to readjust to football through the first two weeks of training camp. They signed free agent guard Malcolm Bunche to take his place on the roster.
The finish of the story was expected, if not at this exact time. And it does little to diminish the obscurity from which Droogsma rose to spend a few months as an NFL player.
He’d just recently abandoned his attempts to turn pro in shot put, an agonizing decision that he said really shook his psyche and self-identity but turned out to be one of the best he ever made. He was waiting to become a police officer in Tallahassee. He was spending time with friends and family, investing in relationships that had been neglected in the name of his athletic pursuits, enjoying concerts and cookouts and just kicking back. He was moving on with his life.
“I was basically going to just hang out for a year,” he said of his plans. “I’d spent the last 18 years of my life as an athlete. Football, basketball, baseball, track and field, weightlifting, all of it. It was all my life . . . I kind of got burned out on [shot put]. It wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be. So I decided to hang it up and start my process to become a police officer. And then I got called.”
Droogsma said he was performing in what he called the “sub-elite” level in the shot put. Good enough to probably make a living at it, not quite good enough to win Olympic medals or even make international teams. While the top athletes in the United States can throw around 22 meters, Droogsma was in the 20-meter range.
“I still had a little ways to go but if I had chosen to continue to pursue it I think I definitely could have been competitive,” he said.
That turned out to be a big if.
“In January or February I was kind of like, ‘Yeah, I don’t really want to do this anymore,’” he said. “It was a tough thing for me to come to terms with. I had basically left everything else behind to go to college to do this one thing. It really did become a part of who I was and it was part of who I was for a long time. I felt like I was pretty good at it, I thought I could maybe do something with it, but there was an internal feeling that I was battling.
“I found myself looking for any excuse to not practice or not work out,” he continued. “‘I’m tired today’ or ‘I woke up late’ or ‘I was up late last night, I’ll sleep in and rest up and hit it hard tomorrow.’ I was like, ‘This is not how I want to do this.’ If I am going to do something I’m going to go full, 100 percent. So I said I’m either gonna do it 100 percent or I’m not gonna do it and I really didn’t want to do it. That’s what pushed that decision over the edge.”
Then came that call from the Giants.
“It really re-lit an athletic fire in me that I kind of thought I had lost,” Droogsma said.
He had to lose weight, and he did. He was 348 pounds when he was at rookie minicamp and is now 322. He also had to get used to football again. The calls, the techniques, the pads.
“I think it’s fair to say since he hasn’t played football in a very long time, to then try to do it at this level is a big challenge,” Pat Shurmur said. “We’ll just have to see where it goes. Him being out of football for as long as he was, it’s kind of put him behind a little bit.”
That didn’t stop him from fitting in with his teammates, though. Starting guard Kevin Zeitler’s face lit up when asked about the rookie.
“Droogs! Fantastic story!” Zeitler said. “He’s a big, strong guy. He’s got the oomph of an O-lineman. But he’s obviously very, very raw. So it’s a nice challenge for him in that he has so much to learn and so much going on in his head, but he has the physical traits to be successful. It’s just a matter of waiting for him to have his a-ha moment. He’s working day after day and that’s all we can ask for. It’ll be fun to watch him and see him develop as these weeks go on.”
Those weeks ended Monday when the Giants waived Droogsma.
Droogsma had no illusions about a career in the NFL when he picked up that phone call in the spring, and this training camp has shown him how far he is from that possibility.