Elsworth on the hunt for an opportunity

Elsworth on the hunt for an opportunity

After a storybook ending to a Michigan State career that began as a walk-on, the former Spartans linebacker is seeking a spot at the next level.

Kyler Elsworth might have etched his name into Michigan State history, but he hopes his Rose Bowl-clinching tackle isn't the final play of his football career.

All Elsworth wants now is an opportunity in the NFL – just like the one he was afforded at Michigan State. After all, the former walk-on linebacker for the Spartans knows first hand all it takes is someone giving him a chance and as the NFL Draft approaches, that's what he really is looking to land.

"All I need is an opportunity," Elsworth said. "For me, it doesn't matter how I get to the NFL, if I'm drafted or an undrafted free agent. An opportunity will get my foot in the door and I will take my same mentality of hard work and persistence with whatever teams picks me up and gives me an opportunity, but I feel like I'm well prepared having battled uphill my entire college career."

Elsworth came to Michigan State after a very successful high school wrestling career and had seen his recruitment take off – on the mat. He elected to instead take a walk-on spot and play football in East Lansing, not knowing what it would mean and certainly not knowing if the chance to obtain his NFL dreams would be at hand.

"I thought I wouldn't get a lot of playing time, spend time on practice squad," he said. "It's crazy to think you walked on and earned a scholarship, started making your way on special teams then situational things then eventually had that Rose Bowl game.

"It's almost like a storybook, movie-kind of thing for me. It's everything you dream of coming in as a walk-on."

The Goodrich, Mich., native played in every game after his redshirt year in 2009. He was featured on special teams and in some defensive formations, but a big blocked punt in the Spartans' win against Wisconsin in 2011 was his first major splash. Still, before his senior year, he hoped he had more to give before his career wrapped up.

It was not until fellow senior linebacker Max Bullough was suspended leading up to the Rose Bowl that Elsworth found that opportunity. Elsworth took it upon himself to finish what Bullough had started – and took to the film room in a very Bullough-esque fashion, staying up late studying the upcoming opponent in preparation.

"I would be watching film until 2 in the morning or 1 in the morning or until bed check, if I could," he said. "I would call my position coach, the film guys and say, ‘Can you get me in the room?' They would be out with their families having dinner and I would have to talk with someone on staff at the hotel and convince them to let me into the room."

The hours of preparation paid off and in his first and only career start, he got the stage and drew a lot of attention – more than he could have from the few snaps he expected he would have in Pasadena initially.

"I think the buzz around my name came a lot from the Rose Bowl," he said. "I don't think that one game is a final decider of getting an opportunity, but I think what the Rose Bowl did was give me a little push and let me get my foot in the door and get my name out there.

"It got teams to say, ‘Oh he did this, let's see if he's done anything else.'"

It doesn't hurt when you are named the defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl and make a game-clinching tackle when it comes to making a buzz, something Elsworth still finds hard to fathom.

"For people who has been following Michigan State since before I was born to say, ‘Hey, that play is one of the greatest plays in Michigan State history' is just crazy," he said. "It's crazy to think that one thing propelled you into a little bit of stardom just for the time being."

Doors soon opened up following the Spartans' 24-20 win against Stanford and Elsworth's plans changed. He expected he would return to East Lansing to work out in advance of the Spartans' pro day in March, but a family friend, Aaron Simpson, connected him with agent Steve Siegel.

"It was the complete opposite of what I thought I was going to do before I left for Pasadena," he said. "It was a last minute thing I got hooked up with and it was through and in and he took a chance on me."

Through Siegel and Simpson, Elsworth was connected with Gilbert, Ariz.-based Power MMA and Fitness to put in the necessary work leading up the draft.

He spent ten weeks split into two stints training at the gym mostly dedicated to various forms of mixed martial arts. He went to two regional combines – one in California and one in Indianapolis – and Michigan State's pro day all in hopes of catching the right eyes to give him a shot at the next level.

A few NFL teams have been in touch and Elsworth said Siegel has been doing plenty of legwork in getting his name out to NFL teams. Now, it is a waiting game as the draft kicks off Thursday and runs through Saturday.

"Just in the past week or week and a half, a couple of people have talked to my agent and asked for my draft day number, which kind of in my mind makes me feel like if certain picks go certain ways, they are thinking about taking me late in the seventh round," he said.

He feels the most likely outcome is being an undrafted free agent, but that would be making Elsworth right at home with another opportunity to seize.

"I feel like my background of having to climb that ladder and be that unknown guy coming into a camp, I kind of know the process," he said. "I've had that before coming out of high school and going into college when nobody knew who I was.

"I feel like I know what to expect as far as how your emotions are feeling going into it and how you have to work your way up through hard work."

So with plans to take the MCAT and attend med school on the backburner, Elsworth is heading into this weekend hoping he secures himself an opportunity and another chance to prove himself.

But if the phone doesn't ring and his football career comes to a close, Elsworth will remain a part of Michigan State lore with the final play of his football days.

"If that's my play in football ever, it's not a bad way to end your career with a final leaping tackle on fourth down to seal the deal in a Rose Bowl," he said. "You couldn't ask for a better way to go out. That's going out on top.

"I would still like to continue my career, but I can definitely say I left it all out on the field on that play."

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