Leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, The Post is breaking down the draft class by position in an 11-part series. Tomorrow: defensive linemen.
You will hear another lifelong dream fulfilled. You will hear another journey begin. You may hear Adam Trautman’s name called before every other tight end in the upcoming NFL draft.
For so long, Trautman would only hear dissuasion.
He heard it when he couldn’t land a scholarship out of his small hometown in northern Michigan. He heard how Dayton hadn’t produced an NFL draft pick in four decades. He heard his degree in electrical engineering would come in handy.
“I always wanted to play in the NFL, but I didn’t know if it was possible,” Trautman said. “I did not expect to be in this position. I definitely didn’t think it would get to this point.”
It was implausible because Trautman didn’t become a tight end until his college career began. At Elk Rapids High School, he was a triple-option quarterback and cornerback, playing both ways because the team didn’t have enough bodies.
Before the 6-foot-5, 253-pound tight end began eating two dinners a day and carrying around a bag of cold hamburgers for a snack, Trautman was invisible to FBS schools, weighing 176 pounds as a high school junior. He stated his case to 30 or so programs via email. None were returned.
Dayton, of the non-scholarship Pioneer League, won out over the Ivy League offers. Then, about a week into his first camp with the Flyers, Trautman proposed the position switch to then-offensive coordinator Eric Evans, believing his athleticism would be more impactful at tight end.
“He looked at me, like, ‘Are you serious?’ ” Trautman said. “Three days later, he said, ‘Go down to tight end. Let’s see what you can do.’ ”
An over route was overthrown on the first play. Trautman dove to make the catch.
“Go get a white jersey,” Evans said, approving the change.
Trautman was explosive and agile, a strong leaper and route runner. He was unlike any player Rick Chamberlin has ever coached.
“We get those guys that are gonna be a couple inches too short, a second too slow to play at major colleges. Physically, we don’t get those guys here. Then, Adam came along,” said Chamberlin, who has been on staff since 1980. “He was a natural and he kept working to refine his skills. People on the team respected him for his work ethic, for his dedication to the program. He has standards he believes in and he’ll let you know if he doesn’t feel like you’re living up to those standards. … We vote on captains by secret ballot. He was unanimous. Every member of the football team voted for him.”
Trautman’s experience at quarterback made the transition easier than expected.
“I knew I had the athleticism, and mentally, it was a huge edge because the game naturally came slow to me,” Trautman said. “You go from worrying about everything on the full field to just a tight end. You could play fast and not have to figure it out.”
Before coming to Dayton, Trautman was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on at Michigan State. He passed, wanting to be somewhere he was truly wanted. This past season, Trautman declined a bigger spotlight and the chance to play at a power program as a grad transfer, wanting to finish what he started.
“[Former offensive coordinator Austin] King said to me, ‘If you’re good enough, they’re gonna find you,’ ” Trautman recalled.
The Ravens and Colts came first, visiting the spring before his final season.
“After they talked to him, the last thing they said to me was, ‘Coach, you’re gonna have a lot of people come through here next season,’ ” Chamberlin said. “We had scouts every day. He generated that much attention. He just dominated people. The word spread very quickly about him.”
Representatives of all 32 NFL teams came to watch, as Trautman set school records with 70 catches and 14 touchdowns for 916 yards last season. He was named an AP FCS first-team All-American and the first tight end named Offensive Player of the Year in the Pioneer League.
The Senior Bowl practices revealed even more.
“I always had enough confidence, but to show that I belong, to get in front of these guys with Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State on their helmets and show them it doesn’t matter if I’m from Dayton. I think if you put an Alabama sticker on my helmet, it would’ve looked the same,” Trautman said. “All the scouts told me I had a great week and that everything I do translates to that level of competition.”
Soon, his name will be heard before the likes of players from Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State.
“You watch the kid … adapting to being a tight end, dominating that level,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on a conference call. “The hands, the fact that he can just overpower people at times in the open field, his aggressiveness. … The second round is not out of the realm of possibility.”
Nothing is beyond the realm of possibility anymore.
“When you’re under-recruited, they tell you everywhere you go that you’re not good enough to play at the next level,” Trautman said. “You want to debunk all of that. You want to be that guy.”
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