For the Love of Football: NFL Journey #1

For the Love of Football: NFL Journey #1

Andrew Trainer ’16 playing tight end for the Saints. [Photo by Jameson Bloom ’13]



NFL Offensive Lineman Andrew Trainer ‘16

Los Angeles Chargers photos by Mike Nowak


Always tall for his age, his favorite sport growing up was basketball. He also played baseball and some football, but his primary focus was on shooting hoops—and getting good grades. When he was in middle school, Fairfax County Public Schools didn’t have team sports, so Andrew was playing in the Fairfax County Youth Basketball League. Already 6’4” in the eighth grade, he was spotted by coaches from several schools, including the head basketball coach for St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes. Attending an independent school had never crossed Andrew’s mind, but the spark of interest in his athletic ability lit a fire.

“I visited a handful of schools in the area, but I felt SSSAS was going to set me up better academically than the other schools.” Andrew recalls. More than a tall student with a wide wing span, Andrew was as motivated in the classroom as he was on the court. His transition into freshman year went well and he maintained excellent grades on Dean’s List through all four years of high school.

Looking back Andrew says he was “definitely prepared for college,” but notes that college preparation doesn’t sum up his high school education. “It’s a very formative age, when you are developing your ideas and opinions, and formulating a view of the bigger picture. I think particularly in junior and senior year, SSSAS helps you to see the world through a wider lens and understand how to apply what you’re learning to your everyday life.” Andrew believes the school also reinforced his values and personal beliefs. “SSSAS emphasized integrity, doing the right thing even when people aren’t watching,” Andrew says. “Living a life of integrity is key to living with yourself and others.”

As soon as Andrew was in the door, Head Coach Bernard Joseph tempted him onto the football field and proceeded to change his life. The impression he made on Andrew was deep. “Coach Joseph was amazing. I don’t think I would’ve stuck with football if not for him. From freshman year on, I never looked back and I’m so grateful for his encouragement.”

Although Andrew still loved playing basketball and baseball, his passion for football grew each year. Andrew played tight end for the Saints, making All-IAC and All-State 2nd Team in 2015 and All-IAC and All-State 1st Team in 2016. On the basketball court, he was All-IAC 2015 and 2016, and captain of the team in his senior year. At Prize Day he received the Athletic Council Silver Bowl Participation Award for playing 12 seasons and the John Morrow Stanton Memorial Athletic Award for Outstanding Student Athlete. By the time Andrew graduated, he was 6’7” and 240 pounds. He received offers from the University of Buffalo, East Carolina, Harvard, University of Illinois, North Carolina State, Pittsburg, Temple, UConn, University of Virginia, Wake Forest, and Yale. He committed to UVA, but fate had another plan for him.

“College football recruiting can be pretty intense,” Andrew explains. “Maybe I wasn’t wasn’t fully prepared for going into it.” Born and raised in Virginia he was a UVA fan so when they offered him a scholarship, he really wanted to go—”great school, great football, really close to home.” Unfortunately, the UVA offer was a verbal commitment between Andrew and UVA Coach Mike London. In Andrew’s senior year, the UVA coaching staff was fired and the new coaching staff decided not honor a number of the offers to players who were verbally committed. Andrew found himself in a situation he hadn’t anticipated, but he had stayed in contact with coaches from other schools on the off chance he needed to look elsewhere. He visited the University of Illinois and really enjoyed it. Suddenly, stepping outside his comfort zone and trying something different far away from home looked attractive.

The Reality of College Football

The leap from high school football to the college leagues is steep. Many stand-out high school players discover that the college football world is teeming with talent. Even the most talented high school players are in for a wake-up call on the college field—if they manage to play on it. The workout intensity is heftier and the mental and physical demands are higher. The coaching styles and playbooks in college are more advanced and time consuming. A typical day in a college program starts with an intense workout. Then they watch film, practice, and attend meetings, all while having a full course load. If a player’s grades don’t meet a specific requirement, he doesn’t play.

But Andrew was well prepared academically, mentally, and physically. “I’m very driven and always want to do everything to the highest level,” Andrew says. He credits his parents with instilling a great work ethic. “Their message was if you are going to do something, do it 110%—even if you fail, you will learn a lot along the way.”

Andrew graduated from SSSAS and flew out to Illinois for summer training camp. Every summer he also signed up for nine credit hours, ultimately earning a bachelor’s in finance in three years. Athletically, the bigger challenges he faced included a broken wrist that forced him to miss his first season and a change in position from tight end to offensive lineman. “During my second summer, my position switched to offensive line, which is huge,” Andrews says. “I had to really change my body and gain a lot of weight. From the time I entered college to the start of the second season, I had to put on 80 or 90 pounds. I would say it’s not the worst thing in the world to have to eat a lot, but gaining that amount of weight becomes a job.”

As he finished his undergraduate degree, Andrew assessed his options. He wanted to further his education with an MBA and play more college football. With no connections to the Midwest, his thoughts drifted back to Virginia. His younger brother, Sam, was attending William & Mary, and Mike London was coaching the football team. Andrew grins and says, “I thought if I have only a couple of more seasons to play football, I want to make it the most enjoyable experience I can.”

Andrew was healthy and very successful at William & Mary. He started all 12 games at left tackle in his junior year and in all eight games he played in during his senior year. He earned All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team Selection, Phil Steele All-CAA First Team, VaSID All-State Second Team, and Phil Steele All-America Fourth Team. He also earned academic honors, including W&M’s Provost Award and the CAA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll. In the spring of 2021, he was selected as a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation Campbell Trophy (Academic Heisman), which honors the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.

Andrew #79 playing left tackle for William & Mary [Photo courtesy of W&M] and Andrew’s W&M Pro Day card.

The Ultimate Sport 

By the time his college football experience was coming to a close, Andrew knew he wasn’t ready to give up playing for a career in business and finance. Nothing else was an option—his life was all about football, driven by his personal goals to achieve the next level and a desire to contribute to his team’s success.

When asked how he feels about playing football, Andrew recalls a quote from former NFL coach John Fox that really resonated with him: “Football is the ultimate team sport. It teaches discipline, teamwork, and getting along with different people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Everyone is working toward a common goal.” Andrew is fully invested. “You have to love football,” he says. “It’s not just about the game days, it’s about the other six days a week, the off-season, the 6 a.m. workouts. You may not love that, but you know that being the best you can be supports your teammates—when you win, you all win together.”

With his eye on the prize, he honed in on making it to the NFL. He started training for Pro Day, when colleges invite NFL scouts to watch their best players perform and compete in many of the same tests and drills at the invite-only NFL Draft Combine: the 40-yard dash, bench press, long jump, etc., and other position-specific drills. He did well and caught the eye of a few scouts but wasn’t selected in the Draft. Players not selected in the Draft become an undrafted free agent, retaining eligibility to enter the NFL and theoretically able to sign a contract with any team. The contracts are usually less lucrative, but it’s a shot to play in the league.

Andrew received an offer to play offensive lineman with the Los Angeles Chargers.  

Making It

All the excitement that football brings doesn’t come without a price. Making it as a pro player in the NFL is an incredibly difficult endeavor and a challenging lifestyle. To be successful at the highest levels of competition, football players must demonstrate superior physical strength, agility and speed, mental fortitude, and leadership and decision-making skills. And it can also require good timing and luck. A player may possess all those attributes and be fully committed every day, but there’s one thing they can’t control that can change everything—injuries.

When he arrived in L.A., Andrew was supercharged and ready to play. He participated in OTAs (organized team activities) from mid-April to mid-June, doing strength workouts and running.  That was followed by practices until the end of June. After a few weeks off he returned in mid-July for training camp, which offers the best opportunity for rookies to strut their stuff and earn a spot on the team roster. The days are long and exhausting. The schedule starts at 6 a.m. with breakfast, followed by a mandatory treatment time in the training room. After treatment there may be some time in the gym before a team meeting and watching tapes of the previous day’s practice. Team meetings are followed by offensive and defensive meetings, a practice, lunch, and another practice. Once the field work is done, the evenings are filled with dinner, more meetings, recovery, and a limited free time before lights out around 10 p.m. Each of the players have meals that are measured and allocated based off their position and current body composition ahead of their goals for the season.

Practices are usually broken down into individual work within position groups, working on technique drills. “There’s a lot of footwork and hand placement,” Andrew says. “A big part of our job is getting our hands on the defender and essentially moving them against their will, so there’s many different techniques involved in offensive line play and it takes daily practice to master them.” And all the players are there for one reason, to compete for a spot on the roster. “Every player there was the best player on their college team,” Andrew says. “If you’re going against the best of the best, you need to be ready to give it your all every single time.” Despite having the right attitude and giving it his all every day, disappointment was lurking around the corner.

Andrew #62 playing offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Chargers [Photos by Mike Nowak]

Fortune Doesn’t Always Favor the Bold

About two weeks before preseason started in August, Andrew injured his shoulder. The injury required surgery and he missed all the games. This past season, history repeated itself. This time he played in one preseason game before breaking a bone in the bottom of his foot in practice, requiring more surgery. Andrew never had the opportunity to make the practice squad or the regular active roster, and spent the last two years on the Chargers’ injured reserve list.

Just like playing, rehabilitation is a full-time job. “It’s been a struggle, but it’s taught me the lesson to just control what you can control,” Andrew confides. “My dream is to play in the NFL, so I’ll do whatever it takes to get back to a 100%.” He’s realistic about the certainty of uncertainty in the NFL. “Either you get traded or cut or you get injured. No team will go through a season without multiple people getting injured, it’s just a part of the business.”

In mid-March, Andrew was released by the Chargers, but he’s not giving up on playing in the NFL.

It’s Never Over, Until It’s Over

Andrew is training every day and his agent is working hard to market him to other teams, but there is an elephant in the room. “It’s tough for me because I haven’t played in any games for other teams to see what I’ve done,” Andrew explains. But as an offensive tackle, being tall with long arms and the ability to move are all selling points. He has never been in trouble and has a proven track record for working hard and successfully both athletically and academically. “The teams have to do their own research and form their own opinions,” he says. “I just have to stay prepared to play.”  

While he waits to see if another team will take a chance on him, Andrew’s life is all about football, family, and friends. He’s a huge sports fan and loves watching the NBA. “I love the Wizards.” Really? “I know, it’s a curse,” he says. He likes to read historical novels, and watch movies but he’s “not a movie buff,” or a “music aficionado.” He did enjoy “Star Wars,” “Blade Runner,” and “The Predator.” If he could wave a magic wand and fix anything, it would be world hunger. But if Andrew could have any superpower, it would be to run at lightning speed, make a touchdown, and win a Superbowl. Mostly, he just wants to be back on an offensive line and when the opportunity comes, he’ll be ready.