For Nate Menkin, each completed day with the Philadelphia Eagles inches him closer to relevance. He spends hours, basically every minute of each practice, learning the schemes and structure that will someday -- both he and the Eagles believe -- make him a key member of the team's offensive line.
But not yet. He's not there yet.
This fall, the 24-year-old Menkin is busy taking a crash course in all things Eagles. At the moment, he is sitting on the stool outside of his locker, his 6-foot-4 frame -- all 296 pounds of him -- filling the space. He spent the morning watching film, then grabbed lunch and now he's pausing for just long enough to explain what it's like being a promising rookie, what it's like trying to stick in the NFL when you were undrafted and when you played your college ball far away from the bright lights of the BCS.
"I'm showing the coaches that I'm determined," Menkin said before a recent practice. "And I'm showing them that I'm worth their time and effort being here."
Hearing Menkin's story, from high school until now, makes you relatively certain he'll jump through whatever hoop the Eagles present to him, and that by this time next year, he will more than likely be a name Philly fans know.
Menkin grew up in Lago Vista, Texas. He played tight end in high school, and played it well, but still found himself off the radar of college recruiters. Maybe it was because Lago Vista was only a 2A school, or maybe it was because it's easy to get lost among the abundant football talent in the Lone Star state. Whatever the reason, the only school that showed any interest in Menkin was a Division III school located 60 miles from Menkin's hometown. So off he went, ready to make everyone proud.
Mary Hardin-Baylor, Menkin's alma mater, sounds more like the name of an indie actress than a powerhouse Division III football program. But that's exactly what UMHB is: a perennial power. During Menkin's four years on campus, the Crusaders went 48-6 and advanced to one national semifinal and two national quarterfinals. Menkin was the most imposing presence on an offensive line that helped the Crusaders average 291 rushing yards per game and 5.5 per carry.
He has size, strength and speed. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 39 times at Baylor University's pro day, and he runs the 40-yard dash in 5 seconds flat. But what Menkin doesn't have is pedigree and high-level experience, which is why he went undrafted and why he'll likely spend this season on the sideline, preparing for the future. He initially signed as a rookie free agent with the Houston Texans before the Eagles claimed him off waivers Sept. 1.
"Because I'm a D-III player, it's hard to rate the kind of competition I played against," Menkin said. "We have a really good college program, but because we don't have a long history of sending guys to the league, it becomes a tough comparison for scouts to make."
Still, in Menkin, the Eagles see raw talent, so much of it he remains on the team's active list, even though he doesn't play, because Philly won't risk losing him. (If the Eagles move him to the practice squad, another NFL team could snatch him away).
Menkin says the NFL was never his dream as a kid. He only, slowly, allowed himself to start thinking about pro ball during his last two years in college. His goal was always simple: to try as hard as he could, wherever he was. His mother, Marleen, died from breast cancer when he was 16, so Menkin can't imagine not making the most of every opportunity he is given.
"I had a good feeling talking to my agent, just a few moments after the decision was made by the Texans," Menkin said. "He was hearing stuff on the wire and felt strongly that I would have an opportunity elsewhere. I just never thought it would be with the Eagles."
Menkin, you see, actually grew up as a fan of the Eagles. Former Philly great Jerry Sisemore, a two-time Pro Bowl selection at offensive tackle, is a Texas native and helped establish the football program at Lago Vista. In fact, Menkin played his high school games on Sisemore Field. Menkin understands the Eagles see him as a project player, someone who needs a full training camp before he's ready.
"It's back to freshman year in college," Menkin said. "They had high expectations for me then, and I had to put on some weight, learn the scheme, learn how to block differently. It's kind of the same thing here. I have to pick up the techniques and learn the new playbook and work my butt off."
That last part doesn't seem like it will be a problem.