Andy Cohen: The Remarkable Journey Of Jordan Kovacs

Posted May 6, 2013

A story about an undrafted rookie who has taken the long road to get here and who, if heart and desire are important, has a real shot to make this Dolphins' team.

This is the time of year for dreams. Big dreams. NFL dreams. Dreams like the one safety Jordan Kovacs has been holding onto all of his life.

First when he walked on at the University of Michigan. Had to do it twice. Actually, had to beg for a second chance. And now, as he tries to earn a spot on the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted rookie.

The three-day rookie camp that just ended was an easy indoctrination for so many of the headline-making rookies drafted by the Dolphins. But for those who were not drafted, someone like Jordan Kovacs, every moment on the practice field is so important, every play becomes a chance to gain some respect and to catch someone’s eye.

“This is my dream,” Kovacs said. “Only now it is also my reality.”

Jordan Kovacs brings with him a remarkable story. He isn’t quite big enough, isn’t quite fast enough, doesn’t have all those mind-boggling measurables of so many of the highly-touted rookies. But if you are talking about heart, if perseverance and dedication mean something, then Jordan Kovacs is off the charts.

Grew up in tiny Curtice, Ohio. Had a productive high school career. His father played at Michigan and Jordan loved the Wolverines. Oh, how he loved them. But Michigan didn’t want him out of high school. Nobody did. Not even a small school. Not even Division III. Jordan visited a place called Hillsdale College. Sorry, kid, no scholarships available.

“They told me I could walk on if I wanted to,” he said.

Hillsdale College?

So Kovacs enrolled at Michigan on his own dime and showed up at 6 a.m. one Saturday morning for what they call “the open student body tryout.” As soon as the Michigan trainers found out Kovacs had his knee scoped in high school, they turned him down. Work on your degree, they told him.

So Kovacs had his knee scoped another time, just to make sure it would pass the physical, and the following spring he was back out there again, trying out for a second time. This is where he begged.

“I was going to do everything I could to get a chance,” he recalled.

And, finally, he got that chance. Coaches started to notice the blond-haired kid who was always early and always stayed late. By the time that season began, Kovacs had earned a spot on special teams. By the fifth game, he was the starting safety. That was 2009. By his senior season in 2012, Kovacs was captain of the Michigan football team and later voted MVP of the team. He remains only one of 15 defensive players to ever record more than 300 career tackles at Michigan.

A walk-on? Captain of the team? MVP? Is this a movie or a real life story?

And now Kovacs brings that dream, that same conviction, that unyielding desire to succeed, to the Miami Dolphins.

Kovacs wasn’t sure if he would be drafted. You’d think the starting safety at Michigan would get some loving from NFL teams. Then again, if Kovacs ever had the easy path, he probably wouldn’t know how to walk it.

When the draft had ended, when his name hadn’t been called, Kovacs was at home when he received a phone call from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, a diehard Michigan fan who had watched this young man play his entire college career.

“The owner of the team calls you and it gets your attention,” he said.

Ross handed the phone to Coach Joe Philbin and Kovacs quickly accepted the invitation to try out for the Dolphins, actually getting signed as an undrafted free agent. And there he was last weekend, wearing No. 44, and picking off a deflected pass toward the end of the Friday practice. Who was that? Somebody had to notice, Kovacs kept hoping. 

“I believe in myself,” he said. “I don’t think I can play in the NFL; I KNOW I can. It is to my advantage that I have been the long shot before. I know what it is like to be hungry. I know what it takes to get a chance. I’m so excited to be here.”

Those within the Dolphins organization tell me that Kovacs has a legitimate shot; that you aren’t as productive as he was at Michigan without having a chance at the next level.

Meanwhile, Philbin said something at his press conference last Friday that had to hit home with Kovacs. “I told the players, ‘I really don’t care how you got here. You’re here. You got invited. We know who you are. We all feel like we brought you in here to compete for a spot on this football team and everybody has to do that.’”

That’s all Jordan Kovacs needs to here; he’s going to get a chance. He doesn’t want to think about what happens if he fails, how he would have to turn to coaching or maybe become a physical therapist. That all seems like light years away.

He stood on the field after his first practice, talking about getting in the best shape of his life and trying to outwork every other teammate. He spoke about the importance of learning fast and making plays. He spoke about showing up every day with “a chip on my shoulder.”

Just like he did four years ago at Michigan.

Looking for someone to root for to make this Dolphins team? Why not start with Jordan Kovacs. This young man is so easy to root for.

“If you don’t believe,” he said, “it’s not going to happen. And I’m never going to stop believing.”

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