If Nic Purcell manages to make the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster this fall, it could be one of the greatest underdog, feel-good stories in a long time.
Purcell, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound, offensive tackle from Auckland, New Zealand, didn’t set foot on a football field until he was 24.
Now at age 27, he’s been given a chance to play in the NFL.
Here’s a summary of his unique story.
Growing up in New Zealand, Purcell loved basketball and rugby.
“American football in New Zealand is a bit of a joke, to be honest,” Purcell told Jack Barlow of Stuff.co.nz.
At age 19, Purcell served a 2-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Republic of Kiribati, a little known set of islands northeast of Australia.
“I loved it,” Purcell said in his Philadelphia player bio. “I think it accelerated the learning process for me. I was out there to serve people and help people, but I probably benefitted the most from it. That’s usually how it goes. … They taught me a lot about life and about not taking things for granted. They had nothing but they were so happy.”
Following his mission, Purcell married his wife Madison, an American whose mother is from New Zealand. For a couple of years, he worked and occasionally played on casual club rugby teams both in New Zealand and in Australia, according to a Yahoo! Sports article by Les Carpenter.
Purcell eventually got a green card and came to the U.S. with his wife in hopes of attending college. His first choice, BYU, turned him down because of poor high school grades and suggested he go to a junior college. He picked Golden West Community College in Southern California because it was near his wife’s family. He initially had no intention of playing football, but tried out when a friend introduced him to an assistant coach at Golden West.
Purcell started out as a defensive player, but struggled and switched to offensive tackle. There he excelled. He appeared in 21 games, starting nine of 10 at left tackle in 2012.
After two seasons at Golden West, Purcell was highly recruited by several Division I programs but was ruled ineligible by the NCAA due to an exhausted eligibility issue that stemmed from his days in New Zealand. What happened is carefully detailed in the Yahoo! Sports article.
Before he left Oregon, coach Chip Kelly appealed Purcell’s case to the NCAA, according to rivals.com. The appeals failed, so when Kelly was offered the head coaching job in Philadelphia, he invited Purcell to try out at the Eagles’ rookie camp in June. When it was over, Kelly and the Eagles’ management gave Purcell a contract.
Purcell knows he’s a longshot to make the Eagles’ roster, but he’s optimistic and willing to work as hard as it takes.
“The caliber of player that I compete against here, you can’t even compare it to a junior college,” Purcell told CSNPhilly.com. “But it’s been good. The guys are helping me along because the reality is I have a lot of catching up to do, so I try to get here early, before everyone and do some stuff on my own, and the coaches are good about helping me, going through film and teaching me the game.
“The challenging thing is you have to take in the things that you’ve already been taught and be able to retain them and apply them under the stress of the game. That’s something I really need to work hard on as someone who’s new to the game. … Hopefully I get an opportunity to play in the preseason, do what I know how to do, do it fast and do it hard and see what happens.”