It’s NFL draft weekend, yet Southern California’s top draft-eligible quarterback will be one of the few fans not watching the marathon ESPN broadcast.
He and his four roommates can’t afford cable television.
“I guess I’m not all that curious,” Azusa Pacific’s John van den Raadt says with a grin.
It’s NFL draft weekend, a celebration of football bling, giant players walking across glittering stages in fancy suits, yet this area’s best senior quarterback won’t be dressing the part.
He doesn’t own a suit. He doesn’t even own a sports jacket. He shows up for this interview looking the part of a hotshot quarterback with a black Nike T-shirt and black Nike shorts — until you ask about his Nike deal.
“My deal is I bought the shirt for $6 and the shorts for $10 at an outlet store,” he says.
No, he’s not being drafted. No, he’s not even ranked in the top 500 draft-eligible players in the country. Every draft geek is spending the weekend talking about the importance of picking quarterbacks, yet nobody seems to have any idea about this guy, who is the two-time national NAIA Independent offensive player of the year.
So why is John van den Raadt so darn happy?
“I never wish I was in those other players’ shoes,” he says. “I’m on a different journey.”
On the weekend when the NFL goes about its annual decadent business making millionaires out of college kids who haven’t been inside a college classroom in months, perhaps it’s refreshing to remember that most student-athletes are, indeed, on a different journey.
John van den Raadt is not going to the NFL armed with a million-dollar contract; he’s going to a life armed with a valuable degree and the invaluable perspective that four years of collegiate sports can bring.
“Adversity, sacrifice, getting up at 6 a.m. for workouts that I hated, all those things have made me a better person, and that’s made Azusa football worth it,” he says.
For the last four years, van den Raadt has not missed a snap while starting 40 consecutive games in an environment that, to him, was every bit as exciting as the one felt by Matt Barkley at USC. On TV this weekend, all of that will seem worth little as the 6-foot-3, 210-pound quarterback will go undrafted and seemingly unwanted.
Don’t buy it. Van den Raadt isn’t buying it. As with most college athletes, his payoff has not been in the destination, but in that journey.
“You know that NCAA ad campaign that focuses on all the student-athletes who are going pro in something other than sports? That’s John,” says Gary Pine, Azusa athletic director. “He might not play quarterback in the NFL, but his time at Azusa has prepared him to make a big impact on the world in other areas, and we’re proud to be associated with him.”
Van den Raadt feels he’s already been impressively drafted, four years ago by Azusa, the school giving him about a half scholarship even though he had been a varsity quarterback for only one season at Jurupa Valley High in Mira Loma.
“Throw in some academic scholarship money and not much of my education came out of my own pocket, and you can’t beat that,” he says.
Van den Raadt feels he’s already been wanted, by a football team that embraced him — even though he was so nervous when he was summoned to the field for his first college appearance that he ran out without his helmet.
“This has been the most fun experience of my life,” he says. “You can’t put a price on that.”
Van den Raadt not only finished as the school’s career passing leader with 6,639 yards, but also as its third-leading rusher with 2,696 rushing yards. After his final college game, he was offered a chance to attend one of those training centers where seniors hone their skills for the upcoming draft evaluations. But it meant missing school, so he declined.
“This is all about getting my degree,” he says. “Nothing is more valuable than that.”
You know how these top drafted players head to their new teams while proclaiming they are on a mission? After graduating in May with a degree in math and physics, van den Raadt is going on a real mission, leading a church group to the Dominican Republic to run a sports clinic. When he returns, he will either begin working on his teaching credential or a master’s degree in architecture.
“Not everybody is made to be a millionaire,” he says. “What I learned as an Azusa football player has prepared me for life, and that’s rich enough.”
OK, so John van den Raadt wasn’t on national TV Thursday night, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t hug him. So maybe somebody else should.