There’s a path to a higher level of football for first-year Wild linebacker Jason Catchings, but he hasn’t found it yet.
Catchings’ first chance to forge that path was missed in junior college, when academic difficulties left him unable to cash in on attention from Kansas State, Auburn, LSU and Baylor, among others.
Instead, Catchings attended Division II East Central University in Ada, Okla., where he was largely off the radar of NFL teams until the New York Jets brought him into training camp as an undrafted free agent last spring.
It ended in another missed opportunity, as Catchings was let go for what he called “off-the-field issues,” and his NFL dream was delayed.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind I’m supposed to be playing on Sundays,” said Catchings, a middle linebacker who leads the Wild in tackles. “But God don’t make no mistakes, and God didn’t want that right away for me. He wanted me to take His route for a certain type of reason.”
Even though he may be partly responsible for his less-than-ideal circumstances, the 24-year-old Catchings has usually made the most of them.
Catchings became a high-level recruit in junior college after receiving little attention out of high school, and when Division I schools became hesitant of his academics, he held onto prospect status while at East Central.
He’s doing the same thing with the Wild, his second indoor team in two seasons. In addition to his 34 tackles, Catchings is second on the team in tackles for loss (nine) and sacks (3 1/2). He’s fit in well on a defense that returned linemen Matt Moss and James McCartney.
Catchings is leading Wichita’s defense while dealing with more heartbreak, as his grandfather and an uncle both died recently.
“I’m taking all these bends and making sure I don’t break,” Catchings said. “I take all these downfalls as motivation, to keep motivating me, keep going and keep pushing to get where I want to go. In life, you’re going to have minor setbacks, it’s all about how you deal with it.
“Every guy in the NFL has a story. Nobody just wakes up and they were in the NFL. I just take this as it comes to me, and I have it in the back of my mind and in my heart that everything is going to be OK.”
Catchings is equally adaptable on the field. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder was a defensive end in junior college, earned interest from professional teams as an outside linebacker at East Central, and has played middle linebacker for Wichita.
He seems to possess most of the skills needed to play at a higher level, running a 4.7 40-yard dash and a 405-pound bench press in addition to his impressive statistics since college.
None of that has added up to the NFL or Canadian Football League career Catchings desires, but he believes he’s finally on the right path as a person and as a player.
“I feel like my mind is humble enough and I’m mature enough that I know what’s going on and I know how to carry myself as an adult,” Catchings said. “I feel like I’m set for a major comeback.”