The opportunity to make a National Football League roster can be so rare that most players will do anything the team asks of them. Tony Donald is living proof of that.
Donald, the first year player out of Western State (Colorado), is on his second attempt to make the Green Bay Packers roster. Only this time around he goes into camp as a tight end prospect.
He enjoyed a stellar four-year college career at safety and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Packers who moved him to linebacker. The team released him at the end of camp but he had two stints on the practice squad.
Knowing that if the Packers called him again, Donald would have to drop everything and move from Colorado Springs to Green Bay. The chance to get back on a roster motivated the 6'3, 248-pound Donald to work out every day and stay in shape. When the Packers signed him to the practice squad again in early January, Donald, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, was willing to do whatever it took to make sure his stay with the team would be longer this time.
The Packers asked him to go to NFL Europe and, although it can be a hassle for some players to go overseas and spend time away from family to play football, Donald said it was an easy decision.
"I'd be kidding myself if I didn't think I needed the experience, especially coming from a college in a small conference (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference)," Donald said. "I welcomed the opportunity to go and I just wanted to learn as much as I could about playing tight end because it was all new to me. Plus, I think I did an OK job."
Donald did better than OK. After being allocated to the Amsterdam Admirals, he started all 10 games. At the end of the season he was named to the All-NFL Europe Team after catching 32 passes for 382 yards and four touchdowns. In addition to that, Donald also finished 10th in the league in receptions.
Sounds like quite an accomplishment, but don't try telling Donald that.
"There are still plays I could have made, blocks I could have finished," Donald said. "You always know you can be a better player and do more things. It was nowhere near a great season for me and where I want to be."
Switching positions is never easy, but if he had at least stayed on defense, Donald said the switch would have been less difficult. Running routes and blocking were fairly new concepts to him and being an offensive threat wasn't something he was used to. Donald admitted, however, that he did enjoy his time as an Amsterdam Admiral.
"I hadn't played in a regular football game in nearly two years, and I just wanted to keep my fire burning hot," Donald said. "It felt great to contribute and play at a decent level because it's what I love to do.
"The fans over there were fun, and really, the whole environment was fun. I had the chance to see the different stadiums and I soaked it all in because you don't get an opportunity like that too often."
Donald also knows he may not ever get another opportunity like the one he currently has now and after being overseas most of the spring, you might be surprised what he wants to do next.
"I just want to spend a day with Brett Favre," Donald said. "I would like to pick his brain and learn the offense a little faster. When you learn from an All-Pro and have a Hall of Fame quarterback throwing you the ball, that's a great situation. I'm just ready to show the Packers what I learned and what I can do as a tight end."
The Packers certainly are intrigued with Donald.
"The first half of the year, we watched tape of him and we wondered if he would ever be a tight end," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "We waited three or four more weeks and he really made some progress at the end of the season. We're anxious to see what he can do with the pads on.
"If you've got feet and you can run and you're tough, that's three real good qualities."
Rossley said the Packers want to keep three tight ends and now that Donald has a little more experience he just may be a candidate to make the team. That is night and day from when he first got news that he was going to make the transition from defense to offense. Now, Donald has bigger goals.
"At first I was overwhelmed and didn't think I ever would catch up," Donald said. "I'm just glad that I stuck with it and I'm thankful that I have another opportunity to be a Green Bay Packer. Nothing could be better than that."