The walk-on mentality. It’s just one of those “if you know, you know” type things, and former WVU long snapper Kyle Poland definitely is in the know. That mindset that carried him through his collegiate career, and now it’s helping him stay the course as he pursues an NFL career.
“It’s just a different work ethic, and if you were a walk-on you know exactly what that is,” Poland said. “Working hard throughout the years as a walk-on has got me to this point right here. Some guys have signed with a team and I’m basically the walk-on right now trying to earn my spot. So, it’s basically the whole process happening again and nothing new for me. I’ve always had to work hard to get what I want so this is part of the process.”
Poland is used to being the underdog. It’s his never-quit attitude that earned him a scholarship in his final year at West Virginia, and now, he’s hoping it will have the same payoff at the professional level.
“Whenever I was at the Houston Texans’ facilities, I looked around and thought people don’t think I should be here or have what it takes to be here,” Poland said. “So, it’s basically just proving people wrong again and keeping that walk-on mentality through the next level.”
So how did he get there? It all started with agents reaching out after the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. He was being contacted on social media or via text message. Alongside his wife and his parents, three potential agents were interviewed and they decided on the best fit as a family. Once the agent was signed, that’s when the hard work was cranked up.
Poland trained with Mountaineer football strength coach Mike Joseph and his staff five times a week, sometimes even more. Outside of the weight room, he was working on his snap with WVU punter Tyler Sumpter. Improving the speed and consistency of his snap was the focus after the feedback he gathered from scouts at the next level. It also required him to make an addition to his game.
“With snapping, the biggest difference from college to professional is you have to block. It’s different than just releasing and running downfield. You have to learn to transition into a block, then shed the blocker and run downfield,” Poland said. “So, that is something I was really focused on because I had never done it before. It’s something I’m still working on to this day because very few college teams do that.”
These sessions would continue on until Poland thought he had a good enough session to call it quits for the day. He said some days lasted longer than others as his training wasn’t the only thing he was focused on. Poland is also a new dad and working to provide for his family as he continues chasing his dream. That’s the dedication he was putting in trying to perfect his craft. He didn’t know what the pay-off would be, but he knew if he put in the work, he would be ready when that call came.
And he was.
“During the 6th round of the draft, after the first snapper got picked up, I received a call almost immediately after from the Texans telling me they were interested, but unfortunately, didn’t have any more draft picks, so they wanted to invite me to their rookie minicamp and have a try out”, Poland recalled. “They said if I was still on the board by the time draft ends, they would like me to come down.”
It was a surreal moment. All those years of hard work finally led to the dream situation — receiving a call from the National Football League. When his phone rang, Poland said he got chills over his entire body, but that was also met with some confusion.
“The weirdest thing was it was an Ohio phone number, so when I picked it up and it was the Texans, it was really unreal because that isn’t the call I expected when I saw an Ohio area code,” Poland said with a laugh. “It was an unreal experience and I’m blessed they gave me an opportunity.”
Poland was one of five players invited to Houston’s rookie mini-camp to try out for a spot on the roster. It consisted of four days of work and yet another opportunity to leave a lasting impression as he worked one-on-one with the special teams staff.
“I was the only specialist at the camp, so I was with the special teams coach and the assistant special teams coach working together for the entire practice. They were the ones catching my snaps and everything because there was no punter there, so it was pretty intense and they were making sure they saw what they wanted to see,” Poland said.
After the final day of training, Poland and the others were sent home. He was told the Texans weren’t making any decisions for the time being, but they would be in touch. They also gave him a point of emphasis to work on in the meantime: speed getting back into his block.
So, now the walk-on mentality is put to the test again. Poland is back to waiting on that call, but the only difference this time is he’s back in Morgantown, more hopeful than ever.
“I’m working out and snapping on a daily basis, just doing what I can to work on what they wanted me to. I’m just staying ready, even if it isn’t the Texans. I’m just waiting on that call,” Poland said. “Could be tomorrow, could be two months from now. So I have to keep my body ready for when that happens.”