Every year in April, thousands of college hopefuls wait to get a phone call from an NFL team to be told they're being drafted to begin their professional careers.
It happens for some in the first round. Others get the call in the second, the third, or maybe the fourth round. But for Josh Gaines, the draft call never came, but that didn't mean he wouldn't have an NFL shot.
Gaines, an honorable-mention All-Big Ten defensive end from Penn State, got calls all of draft weekend from a handful of different teams, but none saying they were going to select him with their upcoming pick in the NFL Draft.
After the anxious and stressful weekend, Gaines' agent convinced him to go to a workout with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Gaines hasn't looked back since. He spoke about that, among other experiences, with the Williamsport Nittany Lion Booster Club Thursday night at the DuBoistown VFW.
"It's different, but it's funny though because the rules, atmosphere, I feel like I'm still in Penn State," Gaines said. "A lot of the coaches know a lot of the coaches at Penn State. Same rules, they're an old school team. They don't allow any straps (on your arms), no flashiness on the field. Same concept, our program actually comes from the Eagles, so it wasn't hard to adjust to it at all."
But Gaines said being in the same locker room with Donovan McNabb and Trent Cole made him a little star-struck.
"To see those guys in person was different, not only that but to practice with them. You know, I'm in the same situation that they are," Gaines said.
After Penn State's 38-24 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, Gaines signed with an agent while out in California. He flew back to Lancaster and trained there before going on to work out with some NFL players at a Power Train Sports facility.
"Seeing that and seeing how they work out and me comparing myself to that, that's another thing that got me ready to play," Gaines said.
Coming from Fort Wayne, Ind., Gaines was closer to both Ohio State and Michigan than Penn State, but Paterno's attitude and the tradition of Penn State lured Gaines to commit to the Nittany Lions.
Gaines played alongside other Penn State players that went pro, such as Tamba Hali and Matthew Rice during his sophomore season in 2005. By 2007, Gaines had helped anchor the Penn State defensive line and helped rank the Nittany Lions second in the nation in sacks and seventh in rushing defense. Last season Gaines had a hunch he could make it in the NFL, and it was from seeing Hali and Rice, among others, that he knew he had what it took.
"Seeing some of the guys that went before me, Tamba Hali, Matt Rice, you know he had a short time in the NFL, the other guys that came to Penn State and went through the program. Basically, the same thing that I was going to do, same things I did. Just seeing those guys and the success they had in the NFL, I realized I could," Gaines said.
The Eagles currently have Gaines at defensive end, however they do have him learning defensive tackle, along with the rest of the defensive scheme.
"The guys (the Eagles) have now at defensive end are all about my height, my size," Gaines said. "I actually weigh the most out of all of them, so it's nice to see the guys who are Pro Bowlers that are the same size as me, been to the Pro Bowl three or four years, so that's nice."
Gaines said Paterno prepared him, among many others, to continue a football career in the NFL.
"I learned a lot from him, just being tough, that's what he teaches" Gaines said. "I don't think I've ever been in harder practices in my life. You know, being at Penn State, we hit all the time, we're aggressive, so it definitely got me ready, where in Philly, we're not even wearing pads. It's different, different environment. They definitely get you ready for the next level."
Despite now playing for a playoff-caliber team that has millions of fans across the nation, Gaines said that the experience of coming out of the tunnel at Beaver Stadium to 100,000 screaming fans isn't able to be replicated in an NFL stadium, and that it's an experience that he'll miss. The fun from college does overlap into the NFL, but according to Gaines, it's now more on the business end.
"In the NFL, it's business, it's your job that you turn that ball back inside. It's your job to make sure you get it done. In college, it's about brotherhood, loyalty to the fans, loyalty to your coaches. Now, it's more business, it's more on the business end than about you're just doing it for the love of your teammates. It's different now."
Another difference Gaines realized on his first day he suited up as a Philadelphia Eagle is the dramatic difference in speed at the college level and at the professional level.
"I'm adjusted to it now after a few days practicing," Gaines said. "I feel like I'm ready to go, still got a lot more to learn, but I definitely feel like I can play with the best of them."
Gaines graduated from Penn State this past December with a degree in Human Development and Human Studies and he plans on working with families and children in underperforming schools.