Every year 80 players are allowed to be on NFL rosters at the start of training camp, and the goal for everyone is to earn their way onto the final 53. Throughout camp, 49ers.com will highlight some of our newcomers and their Road to the Roster. Here’s the third installment of our Road to the Roster series with 49ers linebacker
It had been 19 months, which can seem like an eternity for a football player.
Mike Balogun waited as patiently he could, but still, he said it was like an itch he couldn’t scratch.
For more than a year and a half, all Balogun wanted to do was play in a football game – but he couldn’t.
Physically he was fine, which only made things worse.
The NCAA declared Balogun ineligible for his senior season at Oklahoma in 2009, but these weren’t your typical circumstances. Balogun’s grades were good. He hadn’t been in contact with any agents. He didn’t receive any money from boosters.
Balogun’s eligibility was stripped because the NCAA determined he played semi-professional football after turning 21. Per NCAA rules, any participation during each 12-month period after an athlete’s 21st birthday results in a loss of a season of eligibility.
“They had cleared me five times before, but they went back and reviewed my case again and reversed the decision,” Balogun said. “I don’t know why they did that. I’m telling you, I didn’t play after my 21st birthday.
“When I found out, I was crushed. It was like they had killed my dreams.”
And just before that decision, it appeared as if Balogun’s dreams were about to become a reality.
January 8, 2009 – that was the last time Balogun played in a football game.
He was the Sooners’ starting middle linebacker in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game, recording a career-high six tackles.
“Things were looking good for me at that point,” Balogun said. “To be able to perform on such a big stage, that’s huge.”
But even getting to that point was quite the accomplishment; Balogun didn’t take the typical route.
He had opportunities to play college football after graduating Suitland High School in Upper Marlboro, Pa., but at the time, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
So he went to work.
Over the next three years, Balogun worked full-time and held down various jobs including working construction, managing a moving company and as a shoe store clerk.
But he wasn’t satisfied – he wanted to get back into football.
Balogun walked on Lackawanna (Pa.) College in 2006, and two seasons later was named a Juco All-American.
He then signed with Oklahoma, and his performance in the BCS title game looked to be his launching point.
“I was ready to make a name for myself my senior year,” Balogun said. “But then they told me I couldn’t play. I was shocked, confused and upset. I didn’t know what to do.”
As confused as he was, quitting was never an option. Although he couldn’t participate in any games, Balogun kept practicing with the Sooners knowing it would eventually payoff.
And it did.
Despite not being drafted, Balogun signed with the 49ers last April and he feels he has a legitimate chance to make the roster.
“I just need to be consistent in everything I do,” he said. “I feel that I’m picking up on everything very well, now it’s just a matter of showing the coaches that I can play.”
He did just that on Sunday.
After what seemed like forever, Balogun finally got to suit up for a game when the 49ers faced the Indianapolis Colts in the preseason opener.
The inside linebacker took advantage of his opportunity with a team-high six tackles to go along with an interception.
He finally got to scratch that itch.
“Man, that felt good,” he said. “It felt like forever and I missed that feeling of being out on the field.
“That’s where I belong.”