Perhaps the lone aspect worse than life as an injured, undrafted free agent at Saints training camp is surviving long nights at the team hotel.
Ray Shipman knows.
It’s an experience Shipman, a former Florida Mr. Basketball attempting to make the Saints roster after one season of college football, endured last month, a hamstring injury threatening to end his twisting journey.
“There were plenty of nights I just wanted to cry,” he said Tuesday afternoon after surviving the roster cut down to 75 players.
“I’m not going to lie. I’m a man, but plenty of nights I wanted to cry because this is my dream.”
He didn’t. Faith and family halted such emotions.
Instead, Shipman focused on football. He envisioned himself on the field during training camp, pursuing running back Mark Ingram, following Drew Brees’ eyes in pass coverage. He watched teammates perform at his position. He asked questions. Lots of them. He watched film. Lots of it.
Shipman returned in time for Sunday’s 31-23 win at Houston, finishing with five tackles. It’s likely the only reason he’s still here. He knows he must perform again during Thursday night’s preseason finale at Miami to secure a spot on the 53-man roster.
“But I can’t think about what it means,” Shipman said. “I have to think about what I have to do. I’m going to approach it like any other game.”
After all, he’s survived grander life changes.
Five years and 60 pounds ago, he was playing college basketball for Florida, which won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006-07. He left after averaging 2.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game. After sitting out, he played two seasons for Central Florida, finishing his redshirt-senior season with 91 tackles.
With the Saints, all Shipman wants is a healthy chance.
“There’s still a handful of guys that are still wanting to make an impression,” coach Sean Payton said. “You would say it’s their opportunity to make a lasting impression. I’ve been a lot of places where guys have made the team on this last preseason game... you want to see some of the fundamentals that we have been coaching all during camp show up on film.”
Shipman is competing for one of the last spots at inside linebacker. Curtis Lofton is entrenched in a starting role, with veteran David Hawthorne poised to handle the other slot as Jonathan Vilma recovers from a preseason knee procedure. Backup and special teams contributor Ramon Humber has also been impressive during the preseason. Also competing against Shipman for a job is veteran backup Will Herring.
“My big thing is just capitalizing on the opportunity that they’ve given me,” Shipman said. “Because not too players you hear about don’t play football (for most of high school), play one year (in college) and get an opportunity like this.
“Just making the most of it.”