Center Lyle Sendlein (left), quarterback Max Hall (center) and wide receiver Darren Mougey all grew up in the Valley watching the Cardinals.
Darren Mougey had been here before.
Literally, right here, on the grassy fields at the Cardinals' Tempe complex. Growing up in the Phoenix-area, he had attended the Fan Fest practice that came each minicamp, watching the Cards.
This year, he was actually practicing during the minicamp Fan Fest, with kids from around the Valley watching him. The wide receiver, who prepped at Scottsdale Chaparral High School, was on the roster of his hometown team.
"It's a dream come true," Mougey said.
The Cardinals have collected a handful of locals for their current offseason roster. Mougey and quarterback Max Hall – who grew up in Mesa and went to high school at Mountain View -- are fighting for roster spots. Two established veteran offensive linemen are also playing for the hometown team: guard Deuce Lutui (who remains unsigned as a restricted free agent and absent from workouts) from Mesa High School and center Lyle Sendlein, who actually played a season of varsity football with Mougey at Chaparral.
A more perfect scenario is difficult to envision.
"You are comfortable here," said Sendlein, who signed as an undrafted rookie in 2007. Everyone asks me where to go eat, what air conditioning company to use. It's great to know things, to know people."
When Hall was waiting for offers as an undrafted rookie after April's draft, the Cardinals were at the top of his wish list. Not only was his family here but so too was his wife's family. Hall had originally gone to college at Arizona State, but eventually transferred to BYU.
Finally coming home as a pro "is a pretty special deal," Hall said. "You just want to take advantage of it."
None of the locals think playing for the hometown team necessarily makes it any easier to find a way on to an NFL roster. Certainly coming from the Valley doesn't earn a player an advantage in sticking around.
But Sendlein was able to stay at home with his parents as a rookie, eating some of his Mom's cooking to pack on some needed pounds to play on an NFL offensive line, and avoid the rookie hotel where most players must stay.
Mougey , a year removed from San Diego State and a failed attempt to make the Atlanta Falcons, is also staying with his Mom. "Free rent, free food, I get to see my brother," Mougey said. "I know my mom loves it, and I love it too."
It also shows a little bit of where local football has come in Arizona (the Cardinals also brought veteran safety Mike Brown in for a tryout this offseason; Brown was arguably the state's best player as a running back/safety for Scottsdale Saguaro in leading the Sabercats to a state championship in 1995).
The team's senior director of player development, Anthony Edwards, played for the Cardinals from 1991-1998. A Casa Grande native, he went to New Mexico Highlands for college and then played his first two NFL seasons with the Eagles.
In 1989, the Cardinals and Eagles were both in the NFC East, so Edwards got a chance to play in his hometown once a year (the Cards just moved to Arizona in 1988), which was a thrill. But in 1991, he got the chance to come back.
"It was like a homecoming celebration," Edwards said.
Arizona high school football has come a long way since then. The population explosion has made it more likely football players will emerge, and more likely football players find their way to the NFL.
Maybe, if a player is lucky, he'll get a chance to play for the Cardinals.
"Anyone who goes to high school in Arizona, I'm rooting for them," Sendlein said. "Unless I have to block them."
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