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Defying Odds—How this NBC Camper Made it to the NFL

If you’ve played a sport as a kid, you have probably dreamed of playing professional sports at least once in your life. For anyone who loves basketball, or football, or baseball, professional leagues are like an elusive heaven on earth. While many can daydream about pro sports, it’s easy to forget just how hard it is to get there. Of the 8 million high school students participating in athletics, only 480,000 of them will go on to compete in the NCAA. If you play college football, basketball, or soccer in NCAA Division 1, 2, or 3, your chances of going pro vary in between 0.9% and 1.6%. That means that only about 1 of every 100 players who can make it to play in college will go on to play professionally. The odds seem a bit daunting. One athlete who is currently living out the dreams of so many young athletes is Aaron Neary.

            Aaron Neary grew up in Richland, Washington and graduated from Hanford High School in 2011. Neary participated in basketball, football, and track and field, but missed most of his senior season of football because of a broken foot. In 2011, he redshirted at Eastern Washington University. “When I first got to Eastern, I was just happy to be playing football. In high school, I kind of just thought that I was going to play college football, but I didn’t know the process, and I had no clue what I had to go through.” He came in under the radar, having barely played his senior year of high school, but immediately he went to work.

            “I remember the first day of lifting in the weight room, and I was the lowest in every single thing—I was the lowest bencher, I had the lowest squat, and I had the lowest clean.” The only way to overcome his disadvantage going in was to work harder than anyone else. “It’s all about mindset. It’s easy to go in and do 25-50% of what is actually required, and that’s what most people will do.” Neary learned that the only way to stand out would be to always give 100% and eventually, he did stand out. In his junior year at Eastern, he started 13 of their 14 games and helped blow offensive records out of the water. Neary was selected as first team All-Big Sky Conference selection and earned third team all-league honors from College Sports Madness. In his final season, he was voted a captain, repeated as an All-American and, perhaps most rewarding, played as a full-scholarship athlete. By the time he finished his career at Eastern, Neary says, “By the time I graduated, I out-lifted people by 30-40 pounds in some lifts, and we all went through the exact same program, so the only differentiating factor is mindset.”

            This spring and summer, Neary, with 30-40 other athletes, was with the Denver Broncos, competing for a spot on their practice squad with 10 available spots. Now, Neary is in Philadelphia with the Eagles, living out his dream of just playing more football. His road is a hard one—never knowing if they will keep him on for another week. But, for now, he is enjoying the process, working as hard as ever to make a difference where he is, and trusting that it will be enough if the NFL is where he is meant to be.

            For college or high school athletes, Neary has a few pieces of advice. “You’ve got to decide what is best to stay on track for your dream when everyone is going out to party and get drunk and do drugs. If you want to make it, you need to be in the right mindset 24/7, 365 days a year.” Before I got to the NFL, I thought that my work ethic was what made me stand out because I would work harder than all my peers. Now, I am around people who are all like me. “Whatever you’re doing, someone else is doing just as much. You can’t ever quit and you can’t ever give up.” The group of athletes who are gifted enough to play professional sports is still small. The odds still look scary. But Neary proves that a small town high school athlete can make it the big leagues, if only you’ve got the guts to put in everything.

NBC Basketball Camps
NBC Camps are committed to the mission of equipping student-athletes for success on and off the court. NBC Camps focus on never quit attitude, grit, mental toughness, leadership, gratitude, personal faith and the tools necessary to make your dreams a reality. Whether your dream is to play in the NBA or the NFL, run a major corporation, be a great father or mother, NBC Camps train you to take what you learn at camp and apply these principles to your life to help you win from the inside out. For more information about our training programs visit

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