The spotlight is gone, but Jean Sifrin's NFL dream is still alive

Thursday, March 24, 2016


A year ago, every step Jean Sifrin took in his golden cleats was monitored by a camera crew. 

He was the star of UMass’ 2015 pro day and a documentary crew was on hand to follow one step in the progress, of him fulfilling his dream. With his 9-year-old son Jabari watching, he lifted, sprinted, jumped and caught passes. He looked like an NFL player.

More than that, he was a compelling story. In his early 20s, he thought his athletic career was over. He had given up sports to work in a warehouse to take care of his son Jabari after high school. But, at 27, he wanted to give his football dream one more try. After completing junior college, he enrolled at UMass and was an instant standout.

Sifrin was one of the nation’s most productive tight ends with 42 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, 242-pounds, he had prototype tight-end size in a league that covets big end zone targets. Already older than most prospects, he declared for the draft after one season in Amherst. His story had the potential to be a football fairy tale, with a dream-come-true happy ending for a player, who’d overcome a long and difficult road.

Only it didn’t happen.

Sifrin wasn’t drafted. Maybe scouts were scared off by his advanced age (he's two years older than Rob Gronkowski). Maybe the injury that he suffered at the end of the 2014 season hampered his performances in auditions. Maybe he just didn’t block well enough. Regardless of reason, 256 players were taken, and he wasn’t one of them. 

He signed a free agent contract with the Colts but was cut early in camp. Many players would have walked away, especially at his age.

But Sifrin was back at UMass pro day Thursday. No longer the center of attention, there was no camera crew this time. No hope of getting drafted. Only his dream was left.

But now 28, he’s not ready to hang up his gold cleats. He spent the year, training, studying film, hoping for another shot. Every year at pro day, there’s a former player or two that returns for an encore effort. They’re not draft eligible, but a free agent contract is a reachable goal. Sifrin and linebacker Stanley Andre both came out for a second try.

Sifrin’s primary goal was improving his 40-yard dash time. He didn’t reveal his speed but said he was hoping to be faster than he was. He was a little disappointed but not discouraged.

“I didn't get the numbers I was wishing for in the 40,” Sifrin said. “But right now teams aren’t looking at me for my numbers. They want to see more blocking.”

He’s hoping to show more blocking in Major League Football, a spring minor league circuit that bills itself as a league that “offers another chance for NFL hopefuls.” Sifrin, who was likely bound for the CFL, signed on for the chance to stay in the United States. 

He’ll be playing for former NFL coach Dave Campo, but it’s not clear from the website where any of the teams are based.

Minor league football doesn’t have much of a recent track record for success. Most leagues have folded after a season or two. But Sifrin just needs this one to stay afloat long enough to get him some new tape for scouts to watch.

“Hopefully I can get film from there so I’ll be ready in August when camp starts," he said. “It’s a great opportunity. I’m happy to have it.”

Staying ready wasn’t easy. UMass let him use its weight room and facilities, but he said it’s tougher the second time.

“The people that were there aren’t there motivating you. You have to be self-motivated and really want it,” he said. “I’m dedicated. that’s why I’m here.”

He said his failure at Colts camp was valuable.

“I already had my foot in the door. It’s just being more focused when I get into camp,” he said. “Study that playbook. Everybody is an athlete. It's knowing the plays better than the next person. … I made it too close to give up now.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage