Gronk is back.
The NFL Draft is back, too, at least in a virtual sense, a badly needed fix for those who have been engaged in not only the usual months of endless talk and speculation, but have been starving for any scrap of activity, anything at all, from the world of mainstream sports shut down by COVID-19.
It’s all riveting stuff this week, unless you’re Scott Sicko and you have classes to teach and a move to plan with your wife.
Sure, he’ll read up on the draft a little bit, like any average football fan, maybe even watch some of the first round, but otherwise, “I would not say I’m overly committed,” he said with a laugh during a phone interview on Tuesday.
That could be an echo from 10 years ago, when the 6-foot-4 tight end from New Hampshire, by way of Stillwater High School and La Salle Institute, drew a measure of media attention for being the guy who “quit” football after not having been drafted.
Among the 19 tight ends picked through seven rounds in 2010 were Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, five-time Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham and two players who had long NFL careers, Ed Dickson and Jermaine Gresham, who was the only tight end taken in the first round.
Sicko was projected to maybe be selected in the later rounds, and when he wasn’t, he initially turned down an opportunity to sign as a free agent, then agreed to a contract with the Dallas Cowboys a few days later, only to be cut in training camp.
As nerve-racking as draft day can be for team executives, players and fans, Sicko had the luxury of a second career option that he always knew he would embrace no matter how football treated him. Now he’s enjoying the best of both worlds, teaching social studies while also helping out as an assistant coach on the football team at Dover High in New Hampshire, about five miles from his old college.
“What football’s given me in terms of experiences has been incredible,” Sicko said. “With draft day, when I wasn’t selected, I was in the position of, ‘Welp, what’s my next step? What direction am I going to go in regarding my future?’ I knew education was in my future at some point, so I decided that I was going to go down that path, and that eventually changed when Dallas reached out and voiced the fact that they really wanted to have me come into camp.
“I felt like I was one of the luckiest people out there, where I had two options where I couldn’t go wrong and would love either situation.”
Option 1A got in the game when Sicko was in the midst of his senior season at UNH, in which he caught 57 passes for nine touchdowns and 725 yards.
The word filtered down through his coaches that the NFL had serious interest, so instead of bailing on workouts once the season was over, Sicko kept after it, traveling to the Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning facility in Boston four times a week.
UNH may not be an NFL hotbed of talent, but has had its share of drafted players, most recently lineman Jared Smith in 2013 (seventh round), defensive back Corey Graham in 2007 (fifth round) and DB Jerry Azumah in 1999 (fifth round).
Graham went on to play in the 2011 Pro Bowl and win two Super Bowl rings, with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, when he had five tackles in the win over Gronkowski’s New England Patriots.
Sicko watched the 2010 draft at home in Stillwater.
“In my case, during the actual draft itself, I didn’t get the phone call,” he said. “We knew that I was on the [border] line. There was some expectation that I might going kind of fifth round or after. But at the same time, it was a flip of a coin, when you’re being projected that late in the draft.
“It was one of those situations where you know, in the meeting rooms of all the teams at the time, they’re assessing their needs, they’re assessing the players, who’s come off the board, who’s still on the board, situational stuff for every team.”
While Sicko’s full commitment always had been to a career in education, he still had one foot on the field of play.
The Cowboys made a strong enough push to convince him that they wanted to give him a genuine shot to make the roster, and, seeing this as a final opportunity, drafted or not, Sicko signed as a free agent.
“That was re-assuring and why I said, ‘If I’m going to give it a shot, I’m going to give it with them,'” he said. “It was incredible. It was a situation where I met a lot of guys who, going in, you already had a lot of respect for because you’ve seen what they do on television. But I met a lot of guys that you don’t see on television that often, that I ended up having a ton of respect for, because of the way they showed up and worked every day.”
Sicko played in one preseason game, coincidentally the designated Hall of Fame Game, before which the 2010 inductees, Jerry Rice, Emmett Smith, Russ Grimm, Dick LeBeau, Rickey Jackson, John Randle and Floyd Little, paraded between the teams during the pre-game.
“Your jaw’s on the floor, like, is this real life right now?” Sicko said.
He felt comfortable, felt like he belonged, but also suffered a concussion in that game that kept him out of training camp for over a week.
It was a loss of crucial practice time for an undrafted free agent adjusting to the demands of the NFL, a difficult assignment on a daily basis even for a player who is 100% healthy.
After the Cowboys cut him, Sicko got phone calls from at least three other teams, but they wanted him to be on the practice squad, and suddenly Option 1A had crossed a line into territory that no longer appealed to Sicko.
And Option 1, going back to school to get his master’s degree so he could be a teacher, became the only choice.
“I felt like it was the defining point of do I want to be that journeyman?” he said. “It’s that weird balance of a couple things. No. 1, as much as I love football, even to this day, in my mind it’s a job, right? If there’s someone who’s an accountant and all of a sudden decides they don’t want to be an accountant or want to do a different job, it’s pretty normal. It’s kind of accepted that, oh, you have another passion, that’s what you want to approach. So that was part of it.
“But then the other part was, at the time, I was engaged to my wife — and she’s amazing — and we knew at that point that I didn’t want to turn into a journeyman. And I respect the hell out of the guys who do that. It’s a grind, it’s a tough job, and you possibly bounce around a lot. For me, it wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for after college.”
Sicko taught at DeMatha High School near Washington, D.C. and has been at Dover since 2018, but because his wife Dana’s business is expanding, they’re moving back south, and he’ll be back at DeMatha.
In the meantime, he has been coaching at Dover and currently is adjusting to how the teaching profession can tackle the limitations imposed by the pandemic.
“The kids trust you as a teacher and you want to comfort them and let them know that this, too, shall pass,” he said. “We’re finding out new information every day and have to roll with the punches and be as flexible as possible.
“Looking back on it [the draft] now, I made the right choice. It’s such a rare experience, where you’re actually watching the television, wondering if you’re going to get your name called, wondering if you’re going to get the telephone call, all those different things.
“The NFL is amazing. It’s a really unique job. But it is a job. I also know the old cliche of teachers aren’t exactly doing it for the money, because there’s not a ton of money in teaching, but I obviously have chosen not to do it for the money. I want to be able to wake up every day, love what I do, know that I’m trying to make a positive impact on the world.”