Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Darren Fells' unusual journey to NFL
By Igor Guryashkin
A hoops journeyman in frigid Finland, Darren Fells can now call himself a Seattle Seahawk.
This week it was announced that Darren Fells had secured a three-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks as a tight end. Nothing remarkable, right? Well, nothing except that in May of last year Fells was playing pro basketball -- in Argentina, of all places. More bizarre is the fact that Fells got his deal after one solitary and almighty workout with Seattle's finest.
After attending UC Irvine, where he played basketball, Fells soon found himself plying his trade in far-flung places such as Belgium, Mexico, France and Finland. ESPN Playbook caught up with Fells, who gave us the lowdown on saunas and nudity as well as the prospect of catching passes from Russell Wilson.
Only last year you were playing pro basketball in Argentina and now you have a three-year deal with the Seahawks. Pretty crazy, right?
I’m still in fairy tale land right now, and it hasn’t hit me. I won’t believe it I think until I’m on the plane actually flying out there, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Seahawks organization.
How did all this come about?
The whole reason why it came about was because I had played basketball overseas for four years and felt like something was missing, and I talked to my brother Daniel [a tight end on the New England Patriots] and we talked about how football was the reason I didn’t feel complete. So he talked to his agent, who’s now my agent and he got me into Athletic Performance in L.A. to train.
So how did it work out that the Seahawks were going to be the team that signed you?
Well, my agent started throwing my name out there telling teams that there is a 6-foot-7 280-pound guy who is training, and the Seahawks were the ones who decided to jump on me and give me a chance. I guess I did pretty well because they signed me!
Originally it was supposed to be a Pro Day for you but you got signed off one workout? What did you do to dazzle them so much?
Originally I was going there to be a defensive end, but when I got there they said “let’s try you at tight end as well.” They had me run some routes at tight end. Well when I did all the route running they kept on coming up to me and asking me, “Are you sure you didn’t play any college football? It was definitely only in high school?” So I had a feeling that I did OK, but I’m never sure of myself. I just sat in the locker room for about half an hour waiting for someone to come and tell me something and then I got a call from my agent and he told me that they liked me. Ten minutes after that, the team called and said they wanted me to be a part of the team.
So how on earth did you get from college basketball (UC Irvine) to far-flung places like Belgium, Finland, France, Argentina and Mexico?
An agent showed up to one of my games and told me he specialized in overseas basketball. He was able to get me into Belgium, and it went from there.
You then ended up in Finland -- which is in the Arctic Circle. How was that for a guy from California?
It’s extremely cold! [laughs]. The complete opposite of Southern California. But I’ve always loved traveling. It’s one of the main reasons I continued to do basketball and be able to see the world. The funny thing is I got picked up in Helsinki and then we had to drive another five or six hours north to get there. I was in a town called Kataja. One of the hardest things to deal with though is the weather. To go from California to a foot of snow every day is huge. Also we only got four hours of sunlight. We’d wake up at 10 o’clock in the morning and the sun would be out, we’d have practice at 3 and it’s already dark. I was there for 10 months.
What’s there to do in Finland for 10 months?
There really is not much to do. We would go to this one coffee shop a lot and drink hot tea and take in the weather. When I was in Belgium [Leuven] every team had five or six Americans, but in Finland I only had one, so I had to hang out with my Finnish teammates and did things that they liked to do and enjoyed.
So what do the Finns like to do?
They really love saunas. We’d have team barbecues and then when it was minus-30 degrees, which was insane for me, these guys are walking outside in the nude and jumping into a hole that they had cut in the ice and then running back into the sauna and encourage me to do that.
Did you do it?
“I’m good” I said. To this day I don’t think I would enjoy jumping into a hole of ice.
Do you still keep in touch with your Finnish teammates?
Of all the teams that I have played for, I bonded most with my Finnish teammates. Quite a few of them hit me up on Facebook [recently]. I was shocked that the news had traveled all the way over there. To me it was just incredible. They’re more accustomed to the actual football [laughs], soccer over there but one of them said he’d love to come to a game if I had the opportunity to play.
Is there anyone you’re looking forward to playing with?
Oh, definitely Russell Wilson. Phenom. He had a phenomenal last year and hopefully I can shake his hand. Maybe I can catch a pass from him, too!
What about basketball? A return?
Professionally I don’t think I will ever return to basketball, but I will always love basketball. When I buy my first house, there is going to be a basketball court somewhere. But right now football is my main focus.