GREEN BAY — Brian Gutekunst and his staff measure just about everything they can possibly measure about a football player in advance of the NFL Draft.
Height. Weight. Arm length. Hand size. Wingspan. Time in 40-yard dash. Ten-yard split time. Three-cone drill time. Short shuttle run time. Bench press repetitions. Vertical jump height. Broad jump distance. Wonderlic intelligence test score.
And then, for the Green Bay Packers general manager and his scouts, there is another aspect of a prospect’s resume that they consider. It is unquantifiable, and it guarantees nothing. But measuring the amount of adversity a player has faced — and has overcome — is something the Packers really do think about.
“I talk about it a lot — how these guys are wired,” Gutekunst said Sunday night after finishing his second draft as GM. “There’s a lot of adversity in our league, and you have to have enough toughness — mental and physical — to get through it. So as we go through our studies on different guys, the history of them being able to fight through adversity and their determination, it matters.”
Of the eight players the Packers added during the three-day draft — edge rusher Rashan Gary, safety Darnell Savage, offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins, tight end Jace Sternberger, defensive end Kingsley Keke, cornerback Ka’dar Hollman, running back Dexter Williams and inside linebacker Ty Summers — surely each one of them faced some measure of adversity on their journey to the NFL.
But it’d be hard to top the number of obstacles Hollman had to overcome before the Packers took him in the sixth round (No. 185 overall) on Saturday: From not being recruited out of high school and going on a letter-writing campaign to get a football scholarship, to working a variety of odd jobs — including being on the conveyor belt crew at a bread factory, to loading and unloading Dunkin’ Donuts trucks on the East Coast, to cutting meat for a deli while — to struggling with low SAT scores while at a prep school.
“If you know his story,” Gutekunst said, “it’s one of determination and grit.”
The emailing campaign finally paid off for Hollman when an assistant at Toledo looked at the highlight video Hollman had attached to every email he sent out and offered him preferred walk-on status. By his redshirt sophomore year, the 6-foot, 190-pound Hollman had earned his scholarship. Last week, he took a late pre-draft visit to Green Bay, and on Saturday, he became a Packer.
“I’m pretty sure every player in the draft class, they’ve got their own story. They had to fight their own battles,” Hollman said during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters after he was picked. “I know, speaking for myself, I know how much I appreciate it. I’m not going to say I appreciate it more than them — everyone has their own battles and different journeys — but I don’t know anybody’s path is like mine.”
Williams, his fellow sixth-round pick, has had his own challenges — some of his own making — but has his own motivation to succeed. His mother, Cheryl, came to live with him at his off-campus Notre Dame apartment in South Bend, Ind., last fall — despite facing a pair of life-threatening illnesses herself — after her son was suspended for four games for violating team rules.
Williams had also been arrested with five other Irish players earlier in his career — it’s unclear whether the suspension was in any way connected to the 2016 arrest — and was essentially on his last chance last season when he rushed for 995 yards and 12 touchdowns in his only season as a starter.
“I’m not the same guy I was then, and I don’t plan on turning back at all now that I have this opportunity,” Williams said. “I always wanted to make sure I left a good note or something that I could feel, ‘OK, this is how I remember Dexter Williams.’ I just wanted to leave my mark on (Notre Dame). I didn’t want to leave with a bad name. I just wanted to show everyone who Dexter Williams is.”
As compelling as their stories might be, though, every other player on the 90-man offseason roster has his own story, too. And what will decide all of their football fates will be how they play, not what they overcame to get to this point.
But perhaps what Hollman and Williams have faced have prepared them for whatever may come next. Hollman, for example, went from those low SAT scores to earning his undergraduate degree from Toledo and starting work on his master’s degree last semester.
“Going through all that stuff, when you actually get somewhere, it made me take nothing for granted. Nothing,” Hollman said. “Because it can be one point when you have everything, and (then) you don’t have anything.
“Leaving high school, everybody feels like they’re the best. I was riding high on Cloud Nine, and then when I went home (from prep school without any scholarship offers), and all my friends were at school, I just dropped. When I actually went to college at Toledo, I was grateful again.
"I know when you have stuff like that you can’t take it for granted. You have to be humble. You can still enjoy it, but take every day for what it is and be grateful.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9-11 on “Wilde & Tausch” on your local ESPN station.