By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
If someone with an iPhone was to ask Siri what Greg Van Roten has done the past two seasons while playing as an offensive lineman for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, the reply would likely last long enough to cause her to go hoarse and need a few lozenges.
“Before our first regular-season game (in 2015), our center got hurt and so I played three games at center and then I went to right guard,” Van Roten said. “Then our center got hurt again and I went back to center. And then I played right guard 10 games in a row and the right tackle got hurt, so they moved me to right tackle.
“The second year, I started at center because the center that was there, we lost to free agency. They had a rookie that they drafted and wanted to play center, but he wasn’t ready yet. So I was put there and then went to right guard. But then our left tackle got hurt and so I moved to left tackle for the rest of the season. I ended up playing and starting at four different positions across the O-line at one point over the course of 33 games.
“The CFL season ended and I had workouts with the Jets and the Bears, and I felt like I had pretty good workouts,” Van Roten said. “The feedback I got from them was positive, so I was kind of hopeful. But they didn’t sign me right away.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars did sign Van Roten in February. However, after selecting offensive tackle Cam Robinson in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Alabama, and signing undrafted free agent offensive linemen Parker Collins from Appalachian State and Texas A&M’s Avery Gennesy, he was released on May 1.
Now awaiting the next opportunity in the NFL, what has led Van Roten to this point?
An Ivy League All-Conference tackle at Pennsylvania, he signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 2012. Following two seasons with them, appearing in 10 games, Van Roten spent the 2014 offseason and training camp with the Seattle Seahawks before being released. Discouraged, but not ready to walk away from the game, he traveled north of the border and signed with Toronto.
“I had one workout with the Vikings (after being cut by Seattle) and other than that I was just living at home, working out and getting ready for my next opportunity,” Van Roten said. “Nothing happened in the NFL that year and the Argonauts were really interested and I signed with them just because the biggest issue with me was that I did not have a lot of film (of game action that NFL scouts could watch).
“Honestly, after getting released from Green Bay, that hurt. And getting released by Seattle really damaged my confidence. Going to Canada really helped me rebuild. OK, I can play; I can perform at a high level. I was grateful for that experience, to be able to go play professional football for two years instead of just being out of the game completely.”
Van Roten hopes the success he had in Toronto will lead to another shot in the NFL.
“That was the plan, but it’s not easy. When you come out of college at 22 and the average NFL career is two-and-a half, three years, I’m a little bit older than the average NFL player at this point,” said the 27-year-old Van Roten. “A lot of guys go up to Canada, they get comfortable or they just don’t want to play football anymore, so it was a risk. But it was a calculated risk.
“If you really want it, you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot to get it because if you’re one of the guys like I was, an undrafted free agent not coming out of a big college, I didn’t have the pedigree a lot of other players have. So you just have to kind of scratch and claw your way. I knew from a young age that football was something that I wanted to pursue.
“I had a great opportunity in Green Bay and I was able to play there for two years, so I knew that I could play at this level. And then I just kind of found myself one day out of football for almost a year. I wanted to keep playing and so I did whatever I could to keep playing and Canada was one of those things that helped me do that.
“Perseverance, determination and probably a lot of stubbornness helped. It was my dream and I wasn’t ready to give up my dream at 24, 25 years old. So I kept doing whatever I had to do to get there. There are no shortcuts.”