David Arkin grew up playing soccer, just like his father. He grew up talking quite a bit less than either of his parents.
The turning point in his athletic life came without a sound, other than pads popping. Arkin started football in the eighth grade, worried he was growing too big for soccer. During the first practice with contact, coaches paired him against one of the team’s toughest and most experienced players in a one-on-one drill on the playground at All Saints Catholic School.
“David is standing there and I walked by and asked David how it was,” said Don Brinkman, then the line coach for the Cougars. “He just gave me a little grin. I knew exactly what he meant.”
Later that night, Kevin Arkin called Brinkman, who often told Arkin his son possessed a football body, and said “OK, you got him.”
Wednesday night, David Arkin, from Kapaun Mount Carmel, will likely start at center for the Dallas Cowboys in their final exhibition game. He is expected to make the 53-man roster two years after they picked him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft and one year after they put him on the inactive list for all 16 games.
“It’s been going pretty well,” David Arkin said. “I feel like I’m improving.”
Arkin, a Football Championship Subdivision All-American at Missouri State, came to the Cowboys as a guard. Injuries moved him to center during the preseason, a new position. Early in practices, he struggled with snaps and some of the blocking assignments. In preseason games, he handled the duties well enough to stay in the starting lineup and grind toward securing a roster spot.
“It’s a big transition, especially in the NFL,” he said. “I definitely don’t feel quite at home yet.”
A lower back injury to center Phil Costa put Arkin on the spot when training camp started. Costa may play some tonight and Dallas owner Jerry Jones told the Dallas Morning News he expects Costa, who started all 16 games in 2011, to play in next week’s opener against the New York Giants. Kevin Kowalski, who also plays center and guard, is out for at least six games with an ankle injury.
Versatility helps a player stick on the roster, and Arkin is adding center to his resume. He started preparing over the summer. He works with Dallas quarterbacks Tony Romo and Kyle Orton before and after practice to smooth his exchange.
“You have to get the snap to the point where you don’t have to think about it,” Arkin said. “Then you can focus on the blocks.”
Arkin specialized in focus during training camp. He didn’t talk to his parents while the Cowboys prepared in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for three weeks starting in late July.
“That’s the way I treat it,” he said. “I sequester myself a little bit. There’s a lot of time studying and mental preparation. It’s a tough job, and you’ve got to be really committed to it.”
The Arkins scour the Internet for Cowboys news and rumors, trying to see if their son is on track to make the roster. Kevin Arkin, director of development at Kapaun, keeps seven-day votive candles lit in the school chapel, asking Father Emil Kapaun to keep their son healthy and on the roster.
“Nerve-wracking,” he said. “We admitted last year that we’re lousy NFL parents, because we worry about everything.”
The parents aren’t sure where their son got his quiet nature. Kevin and Donna Arkin are talkers. David is more subdued, except around his close circle of friends. He doesn’t wear Cowboys gear when he is out in public, not even when he spoke to middle-schoolers at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, where he attended.
“He’s always been a quiet guy,” Kevin Arkin said. “He gets focused on whatever the task is at hand.”
David is 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, proving his instincts in eighth grade correct. Kevin, who played club soccer in St. Louis, coached his son until that time. Then David wanted to try football before getting to Kapaun. His days as a goalie and forward ended.
He started as a sophomore and earned All-Class 5A and Shrine Bowl honors as a senior in 2006. Kansas State assistant coach Joe Bob Clements told him to wrestle if he wanted to play in college. Arkin wrestled as a junior and finished third in Class 5A as a senior.
Wildcat coach Bill Snyder recruited Arkin before retiring, but successor Ron Prince did not. Arkin turned down Fort Hays State and Pittsburg State to play for coach Terry Allen at Missouri State. After a redshirt season, he started every game for four years and his father thinks that playing time, likely unavailable at K-State, helped immeasurably.
By his junior year, the NFL seemed a possibility. Coaches told the Arkins to prepare. Honors — football, academics and public service — piled up. Agents called.
“David had a nastiness that you couldn’t really coach,” said Brent Chojnacki, his teammate on the Missouri State offensive line.
Saturday, the Arkins and family from St. Louis traveled to Dallas for an exhibition game against the Rams. They sat in the second row near the end zone. When your son is fighting for a roster spot, every moment seems special. The Cowboys introduced the offensive starters that night, and the Arkins stared up at Cowboys Stadium video board — 160 feet wide by 72 feet tall — and watched their son in street clothes morph into their son as a Cowboy. Then his autograph scrolled across the screen.
“When David came out, and they did that, Mama lost it,” Kevin Arkin said. “I was a little choked up. I just wasn’t expecting it.”