Many athletes travel different roads on their way to making an NFL roster. One player may have parlayed a remarkable college career into a high draft status. Another one may have worked hard just for a tryout.
If there is a perfect way into the league, it hasn't been found.
No one understands that better than Paris Lenon. And if you'd review the road he took in making it in this league, chances are you would find that it's been unlike any of his Green Bay Packer teammates or the rest of the NFL, for that matter.
It's not as if the 6-foot-2, 242-pound linebacker didn't start out on the right track. Lenon had a very productive college career at the University of Richmond where he finished with 320 career tackles, including 12 sacks and 21 stops for loss. He also recorded a career-high 104 tackles as a sophomore.
However, Lenon's pro career didn't exactly take off when he graduated in 2000. In fact, Lenon's pro career didn't take off at all. He signed with the Carolina Panthers after the NFL draft came and went without his name being called. Less than two months after signing with the Panthers, he was waived and out of football for the remainder of the season.
Lenon's fire for football still burned, however. He kept the fire lit by playing with the Memphis Maniax of the now-defunct XFL. Following his season in Memphis, Seattle and Green Bay each signed him and waived him and at this point, his career as a professional football player was looking murky at best.
The Packers decided to bring Lenon back and allocated him to NFL Europe where he played for the Amsterdam Admirals in the spring of 2002. He returned to the Packers for training camp as a better player than ever before, and it showed. He made a big enough impression on the team to stick around and it was a move that paid off for both parties. Lenon led the team in special teams tackles that year (2002) with 22 and he has been a mainstay in Green Bay ever since.
Lenon admits that he may not have taken the most conventional route to the league, but that makes him that much more appreciative of where he's at.
"If I had to choose, I definitely wouldn't have chosen the route I took," Lenon said. "I would have chosen a little easier and more comfortable road to the NFL.
"But that's me and I can't change it. In a way, I am proud of the fact that I went through all that, because a lot of people don't know what that feels like. It makes me a stronger person for it."
Primarily a special teams player his first season in the league, Lenon rarely saw action from scrimmage as a linebacker. Although his special teams play remained at a high level last season, he began to see more time at linebacker. Through all of this, Lenon didn't take anything for granted, however. He knew coming into training camp this summer that his work was still cut out for him just to make the team. Not only did he conquer that mission, he also worked his way into the top backup linebacker position.
Just like any professional player, Lenon looks forward to an expanded role this season. Yet he knows that as a reserve linebacker, he'll be counted on for his work on special teams, which is just fine with him.
"I hope to see more time (from scrimmage), but that's up to the coaches," Lenon said. "Whatever role they choose for me on this team - whether it be special teams or playing more defense - whatever it is, I just have to be ready to go in and do my job."
Lenon has already seen more action this year as a linebacker than at any other time in his career. He filled that role as well as his regular special teams duties in Green Bay's win over Carolina, but in week two against Chicago, Lenon accomplished something he had never done before at this level.
When the Packers came out to start the game in a 3-4 alignment, Lenon made his first NFL start and recorded three tackles in limited duty.
It's not wise to question Lenon's role with the team, either. When asked what he sees when he looks in the mirror, Lenon is surprised by the question, but he doesn't hesitate in his answer.
"I look as myself as a football player," Lenon said. "Whatever that entails so be it. Whether it's on defense, special teams, I look at myself as a football player."
Lenon clearly is a hard-working football player, too. Besides being one of the few players in the league to play in the NFL, NFL Europe and the XFL, Lenon also possesses another redeeming quality: his toughness. Since he originally made the Packers roster, he has played in all 35 regular season games and three playoff contests. That doesn't mean he hasn't battled injuries, it just means that Lenon enjoys his job too much to miss a game.
"What motivates me is going out there and playing football," Lenon explained. "I just love playing football. Early on when I was coming up, I was an offensive player and that was fun but I play defense now."
"I love that so much better because I get to go out there and hit people," he said with a smile. "That's my job and I love it."
Lenon may have taken the path less traveled, but with an attitude like that, it's no wonder he has made it this far. Now when you hear of a long road to the NFL, maybe Lenon's story will give you a new perspective of what that really means.