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Former Clayton County players trying to make NFL roster spots

Hakeem Smith

Hakeem Smith

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Kimario McFadden

Like most youth football players growing up, Kimario McFadden had aspirations of playing professional football.

Living in a city that has a NFL franchise, the former Mundy’s Mill High and South Carolina State standout grew up with dreams of playing for the Atlanta Falcons.

Although he didn’t get drafted, McFadden will get his chance at making the Falcons roster when training camp opens on Friday. McFadden signed as an free agent with the Falcons in May after receiving a mini-camp invitation. He reported to training camp with other rookie hopefuls on Tuesday.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to try and make the team,” McFadden said via cellphone last week. “It is definitely a blessing to get that opportunity.”

He is one of four former Clayton County high school players that are trying to make NFL rosters as rookies this season. In addition to McFadden, former North Clayton all-state player and Georgia Tech defensive end Emmanuel Dieke is on the New York Giants training camp roster. Two former Riverdale High defensive backs will also get the opportunity to fulfill their NFL dreams.

Hakeem Smith, a former all-conference player at Louisville, is on the Tennessee Titans training camp roster while Lavelle Westbrooks, a standout at Georgia Southern, signed a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals as a seventh-round draft pick.

All the players report this week to their respective teams.

Preseason games begin on Aug. 3, as the Buffalo Bills face the New York Giants in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, at 8 p.m. Preseason continues through Aug. 28, with teams making their final cuts to reach the 53-man roster limit later that week.

McFadden got a taste of NFL life when he participated both the Falcons rookie and veterans mini-camps in Flowery Branch. He also was a part of the Organized Team Activities (OTA), which gave him a better understanding of what to expect in training camp.

“Basically, it is about being mentally prepared,” McFadden said. “At this stage, everybody is big and strong. You have to prepared for the mind game of the NFL. Everything happens real fast. The speed of the game is faster than college.”

He said Falcons coach Mike Smith gave all the rookies a book to read that outlines training camp, and the expectations each player will have to meet.

After the NFL draft, McFadden said he had several teams interested in signing him as a free agent. He said the Falcons showed the “most love” and it was also his hometown team.

“This is almost a fairly tale for me,” McFadden said. “It is great to have the opportunity to play for the team you grew up cheering for as a kid. It has been crazy how it has all played out for me. I’m excited for the chance. I think I’m more excited than nervous. I just wanted the chance to prove that I can play in the NFL.”

Westbrooks was the only former county player drafted. He played both the cornerback and safety spots at Georgia Southern. The Bengals took him with the 252nd pick in the draft, and he could see extensive time on special teams this season if he makes the roster.

McFadden said not getting drafted is a disappointment, but getting a chance is more important.

“Of course everybody wants to be drafted to hear their name called on the TV,” he said. “I knew coming into the draft that I was a priority free agent. I wasn’t as disappointed because I knew I would give a tryout with a team. I’m going to push real hard to make the team.”