Dontae Strickland became the first person in his family to obtain a college degree last month, graduating from Syracuse with a bachelor of science in human development.
His mom, Carol, was overjoyed at the prospect of watching him walk across the graduation stage May 12, but in late April, Strickland had to break some bad news.
After the running back went undrafted, the Cardinals offered him a tryout opportunity at their rookie minicamp. The dates? May 11 through 13.
"I called my mom," Strickland said. "She was at a basketball tournament with my brother in Albany. She was pretty upset, but I just told her, 'It will all work out.'"
Strickland wasn't guaranteed to make the roster, but he made the trek to Arizona with high hopes. Thankfully, the missed graduation proved well worth it.
The Cardinals signed him to the 90-man roster at the end of the tryout.
"From the second I got off the plane, I wanted to show them what I was about," Strickland said. "Great kid, high IQ on the football field. Just showing them any little thing – special teams, catching passes, blocking, running, anything to put myself over the other kids trying out as well."
Strickland played four seasons at Syracuse. He was in a timeshare as a senior in 2018, finishing the season with 588 yards rushing and six touchdowns with an average of 4.9 yards per carry.
The Cardinals have four returners in the running back room – David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan and D.J. Foster – and Strickland would likely need to overtake one of them to make the roster. Another option is the practice squad.
Strickland said making the NFL would mean everything to him. A half-decade ago, Strickland, his parents and four siblings spent a considerable amount of time living in a Best Western Hotel in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey.
"My dad got laid off," Strickland said. "He had a minor setback, and it forced us into the hotel, and then we ended up staying four years longer than we expected. It was a make-or-break situation. It made my family as strong as ever. There was no complaining, just sacrificing everything for each other. It brought the family way closer, and now we're just trying to get out of the hole."
When Strickland arrived in Arizona for the tryout, he only brought enough clothes for the weekend. Once the Cardinals signed him, it meant he was staying for the long haul.
"My mom had to send all my stuff," Strickland said.
He finally made it back to New Jersey on Thursday at the start of the rookies' short break before training camp.
Strickland will spend a lot of time studying the playbook and training in the next couple weeks, but a much-deserved party is also on the docket. Now, the celebration can be two-fold.
"Being the first to get a college diploma out of my family is just great," Strickland said. "And now to have the opportunity to play in the NFL, that's every kid's dream. Accomplishing both in the same weekend was amazing."
Cardinals training camp images from 2016-2018