At first, nothing seemed amiss about the empty field. I'm just early, Derek Wake thought. It was the spring of 2007, and Wake had been invited to a D.C.-area tryout for the Canadian Football League's BC Lions. As he waited for others to arrive, Wake threw on his cleats and started warming up on the turf at Howard University's Greene Stadium. Fifteen or so minutes passed before Wake made a call. "Everyone's here," said the voice on the other end of the phone. "Here" was Hampton University, another historically black college, three hours south of Howard. "I'm going to drive three hours, get out of the car, and run the 40?" Wake says, recalling that embarrassing moment six years later. "That's not going to happen."
Six years after that missed tryout, things seem to have worked out. Derek Wake, now known as Cameron Wake, has established himself not just as an NFL player, but as one of the top players in the league. The two time Pro Bowl defensive end worked his way from being cut as an undrafted free agent in 2005 to being a First Team All Pro selection in 2012.
Grantland's Robert Mays is building his list of the 22 under appreciated players from around the league. He explain in his intro:
The All-22 All-Star Team is an attempt to provide some insight on the NFL's 22 most underappreciated players. Some will be All-Pros who haven't fully gotten their due; some will be names few casual fans have ever heard. All will, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.
Mays does an exceptional job building Wake from the player who was cut by the New York Giants after signing as an undrafted free agent to the player the Dolphins currently have lining up on the left side of the defensive line.
One interesting moment is the explanation of the transformation from Derek to Cameron. Was it a statement to put his past life behind him, buckle down, and make it back to the NFL? Nope. It was an incorrectly printed name tag.
It was at Bally where the fairly mundane story of Wake's name change began. Considering his story, one could reasonably expect a transformational method in the change; an act meant to signal a new beginning. But it was nothing more than a clerical mishap. On his first day, Wake was given a name tag that read "Cameron" - his middle name. As Cameron, Wake spent his days selling gym memberships and working as a personal trainer. But at every spare moment, he worked out. His constant presence at the gym came with questions, people wondering what exactly he was working out for. "I'd say, 'I'm trying to make it in the league.' They'd look at me and laugh. This guy's working at Bally's, and he's going to be an NFL player?"
I cannot do any justice trying to summarize the article from Mays, and pulling excerpts only gets so far. Really, go check out the article.
[Hat tip to @az_dolfan]