Austin Droogsma was a shot putter at Florida State, not a football player. He finished fourth at the indoor NCAA Championships in 2018.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The call from Big Blue came from out of the blue. It was so random that Austin Droogsma thought it might be a joke. A former shot-putter from Florida State receiving a call to try out with the New York Giants a full year after he was done with college isn’t supposed to happen.
Droogsma hadn’t played football since starring at Gulf Breeze High School in the Florida Panhandle in the fall of 2012. It was now 6 1/2 years later when he was driving home from lunch with a friend that the phone rang in late April with a New Jersey number showing on the caller ID.
Droogsma almost didn’t answer.
“What telemarketer is trying to sell me something or tell me I owe 10 grand to the IRS,” he thought.
“I kind of thought it was some weird scam. That they were going to ask me for my credit card to pay for a $150 camp fee …” Austin Droogsma, on the Giants’ phone call to offer him a tryout
On the other end of the line was a Charles Tisch, who identified himself as a football operations assistant for the Giants. He asked Droogsma if there was any interest in trying out for the Giants as an offensive lineman at their rookie minicamp, which began in a mere eight days.
It was shocking. Droogsma didn’t play a lick of college football. Not a single snap in a game or even a practice. He was never a member of the Seminoles’ football team.
Instead, he focused on throwing and finished fourth at the indoor NCAA Championships in 2018 and later had a sponsor that allowed him to begin training for a professional career and a shot at the Olympics.
Little did the Giants know before they made that phone call that Droogsma had stopped lifting and training. He was ready to move on with his life to a more traditional job. He was working as a private security contractor to pay the bills and facilitate the lifestyle he desired.
“Then I got a call,” Droogsma said.
He didn’t have an agent and believes the Giants found his name in a database that catalogs players who were highly recruited out of high school but didn’t play in college. Surely they liked his size (6-foot-4, 345 pounds) and athletic ability to try him as an offensive guard. The Giants haven’t had much success with offensive linemen in recent years, so why not look in unorthodox places for a possible diamond in the rough?
It didn’t hurt that Droogsma had a relatively clean medical history with no knee, ankle, foot or hip problems. But that wasn’t enough for Droogsma, who still doubted whether the phone call was genuine. He was uncertain this Charles Tisch was a real person.
Droogsma searched Tisch’s name and discovered he existed and worked for the Giants. Still, maybe that wasn’t actually him on the phone. It wasn’t until Droogsma got confirmation for the invite the next day that he realized this proposal to try out for the Giants was legit.
“I kind of thought it was some weird scam,” he said. “That they were going to ask me for my credit card to pay for a $150 camp fee and ask for my credit card over the phone. In that case, it would have been no shot. And then, it didn’t really set in until they sent the flight information and hotel confirmation. Then it was legit. This is actually happening.”
At that point, he had eight days to prepare.
The first step was figuring where to begin. Understanding the schemes, techniques and verbiage of professional football from scratch is akin to trying to learn a foreign language later in life. It takes time and serious effort. Droogsma had no problem with the latter, but he was short on time. He also had to start at ground level.
He wasn’t even sure about a workable stance. He enlisted a friend to help by giving him a crash course. Former Florida State offensive lineman Landon Dickerson, who transferred to Alabama in the spring, received the call.
“Bear with me when I tell you this,” Droogsma said.
Dickerson was just as perplexed by the offer.
“The Giants? Who Giants?” he said.
“The New York Giants,” Droogsma answered before asking Dickerson to get him up to speed.
Sure, Dickerson figured. It was his dream to make the NFL, too. But if he could help someone else get there, that would be cool.
They went to the field and started with basics. Droogsma found a stance that felt natural. They tweaked it from there.
Dickerson ran his non-football-playing friend through the drills he learned at Florida State under former offensive line coach Rick Trickett. They worked on basic zone and stretch steps and pulls. It was Offensive Line 101.
They would go to the field some days before lunch and then head back to Dickerson’s house afterward, where he would try to explain the X’s and O’s of football. The field sessions were better than expected.
“When we went into it, I was expecting a full-fledged piece of clay that I would have to mold into something real quick,” Dickerson said. “Then we started doing drills.”
Some days there were other Florida State offensive linemen working with them. Droogsma looked as if he belonged during drills.
“He moved a lot better than they did. It looked natural to him. Second nature,” Dickerson said. “That really surprised me because this guy looked like he could compete at the same level as these guys who had been playing football for a long time.”
A blank canvas
He went to the Giants’ rookie minicamp on May 3 and the result was similar. The Giants saw a blank canvas, but a blank canvas who showed strength and explosion, even if Droogsma admitted everything seemed chaotic on the field at that point.
The Giants saw enough ability throughout the three days to sign Droogsma to a standard three-year, $1.7555 million rookie contract.
“I thought I did a lot of things right. I thought I did a lot of things wrong,” Droogsma said. “I obviously showed them enough to give me a call back and give me a longer look. It was really surreal to get out there. You kind of have that nagging feeling in the back of your head, ‘Do I belong here?’ It’s like let’s show ’em I belong here. That is my mentality day in and day out. Prove that I belong here.”
Droogsma worked with the Giants’ full roster throughout the spring. He’s trying to digest coach Pat Shurmur’s offense and playbook.
There was progress heading into the summer, and Droogsma said there will be no days off.
“Now I’m at least going in the right directions,” he said. “I don’t always block the right person, but it’s coming. It’s coming along. Some days are better than others.”
The Giants know what they’re dealing with in this situation. Offensive line coach Hal Hunter noted this spring that the last time Droogsma played football he was riding yellow buses to games. They see some long-term potential though.
“He’s coming along quickly. He’s a big guy. He’s a good athlete,” Shurmur said. “He learns pretty well, he’s a guy that hasn’t done it for a long time. He’s doing a good job.”
The Giants don’t necessarily mind that Droogsma is so raw. They actually seem to view that as a benefit.
“You can look at it as he has no bad habits. He has no good habits, but he has no bad habits,” Hunter said. “So you’re starting with a blank tape, which is sometimes easier than a tape you have to erase.”
Droogsma has an opportunity to make the team or the practice squad this summer. It’s a long way from working as a security guard in Florida.
The whole situation is unexpected considering he consistently told friends who prodded him to join the Florida State football team that it wasn’t a realistic proposition.
“‘Hey man, I haven’t done that in three years,'” he told them at the time. “‘I don’t think that’s a great idea.’ Then three years later it’s like, ‘Hmmm, let’s try the NFL!’ I didn’t want to do it in college but let’s try the NFL.
At that point, Droogsma stopped and chuckled. Even he couldn’t help but laugh about this opportunity that came from out of the blue.