For the Love of Football: NFL Journey #2

For the Love of Football: NFL Journey #2



Pro/College Scout Ish Seisay ‘15



In the high-stakes realm of professional football, the transition from the college field to NFL success presents a formidable challenge that pushes aspiring athletes to their limits. Scouts play a pivotal role in transforming dreams into reality through their astute observations and critical decisions. Their pursuit of the next standout talent is unyielding, involving thorough scrutiny of numerous college games to identify budding potential. This meticulous process underscores the significance of every play, as each one has the potential to significantly influence a player’s future trajectory. 

Just two years into working for the Broncos, Ish still feels like a little fish in the big pond. It’s a place he’s been before, when he made the transition from playing high school football for the Saints to college football. Growing up, Ish liked soccer and basketball, but around the time he turned 15, his two older brothers, Lou and Mo, declared football as the preferred sport. From that time on, football took over his life. They didn’t just say football was the way to go, they were successful examples of what it takes to play in college and beyond. Lou played safety for East Carolina University and Mo was a star performer for the University of Memphis and the University of Nebraska, where he played cornerback. Mo signed with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and then played for the Seattle Seahawks in 2015 and 2016. He continued playing football in the Canadian league, the American Football League, and the XFL through April of 2020 when the league suspended operations.

Ish entered SSSAS in his sophomore year, transferring from DeMatha, well known for their athletic program. “They wanted to switch my position to defensive back, but I wanted to stay at quarterback, and the commute from Springfield to Hyattsville was time consuming,” Ish says. After two years at DeMatha, Bernard Joseph, who was the head football coach at SSSAS at the time, convinced him to transfer. Ish was also heavily influenced by his best friend, Sam Gallahan ’14, who was already a student-athlete at SSSAS. 

Ish found the academics to be challenging, but the Academic Center, led by Director Anne Sellon, was there to support him. She helped him learn how to prepare and manage his time, but Ish says there was so much more to it. He feels he owes his successes at SSSAS and college to her. “If there is one person I’d have to give a HUGE thanks to during my time at SSSAS, it’s Anne Sellon, she was everything to me. She taught me skills that helped me academically, socially, and with life in general. I was totally focused on sports and thought the school side would just sort itself out, but at SSSAS academics definitely come first.” Anne’s office was a safe space for Ish and many of his friends, a place to talk about anything and everything. “She was an angel for sure,” Ish says.

On the football field, Coach Joseph was teaching him other valuable lessons. “He taught us discipline, the consequences of our behavior, how to be a man, and how to maneuver,” Ish laughs. “Some of the lessons didn’t sink in at the time, because we were kids, but now I look back and see I’m applying those lessons to things currently happening in my life. He’s a special guy.”

In his senior year, Ish was recognized as an Outstanding Athlete, made All-IAC 2nd Team and All-State 2nd Team, and was honored with the Association of Parents and Teachers Award at Prize Day. His high school football stats include 3,942 passing yards and 600 rushing yards as the team’s starting quarterback, and 28 touchdowns. He received offers from the Army and the Navy, but his parents were afraid of the commitment. “I was shocked, but as immigrants from Sierra Leone, they just didn’t understand the opportunity,” Ish explains. “At the time, they equated the military with war.”

Left Photo: Ish playing quarterback for the Saints. [Photo by Melissa Ulsaker Maas ’76] Right photo: Ish playing defensive back for the Hokies

Things They Don’t Tell You

So Ish opted to play for Iowa Western Community College (IWCC), unaware of the challenges and restrictions that decision would bring. “Playing junior college football (JUCO) is a different beast,” Ish says. “There are rules and regulations no one tells you about, so when you get there and think ‘oh, it’s not what I thought it would be,’ you have to stick with it because back then transferring JUCO to JUCO was not ideal. JUCO transfer rules are quite complex.”

After a successful high school experience as the quarterback for SSSAS, Ish was surprised to be a redshirt freshman in college. “I honestly did not know redshirtting was a possibility when I first arrived—there’s an out-of-state rule limiting the number of out-of-state students who could play on the team,” he says. “They bring in around 100 out-of-state players, so you’re competing with everyone for very few spots. We didn’t realize that until we got there, which was tough, but that’s how the game goes. Competition either breaks you or makes you.”

Ish heard from his friends in other colleges, and the comparison was disheartening. “They were at big schools, partying and having fun, while I was far away from home for the first time in this small town in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was a hard adjustment.” But as Ish sat on the bench he was determined to make the best of it. Good things can come from adversity. “Some of my best friendships were forged at IWCC,” he says. “The tough times we shared created a real bond, and we’re still in touch today.”  

While he wasn’t playing during his first season, Ish shifted his focus to making good grades, graduating early, and continuing to play for an NCAA Division I team. His second season he did play as a safety. He reached out to Coach Joseph and sent him his films. He put Ish in touch with Chuck Cantor, who oversaw all aspects of Virginia Tech’s football recruiting process. Ish was accepted to James Madison University and Virginia Tech and decided to go with the Hokies, where he played defensive back. He was a preferred walk-on for two years, but received a full football scholarship from Virginia Tech to play in his senior year. During his last bowl game, Ish was awarded the Wes Worsham Award, given to the player who exceeds expectations and surprises everyone with his performance. Academically he was an honor roll student and received his bachelors in public relations and business leadership.

Ish Seisay ’15 with Coach Bernard Joseph and Lamumba Howard ’20

In addition to studying and playing football, Ish started to build some work experience. In the summer before his senior year, he coached at the Virginia Tech Football Camp. His peers elected him to be a mentor on the Virginia Tech Leadership Council, serving as the main voice for the 2019 Virginia Tech football team and collaborating with his teammates to organize their targeted goals for the season and resolve any presented issues. He also discovered that he had a growing interest in scouting and recruiting and hoped to land a job in the NFL.

“I talked to my coaches about it and they gave me some resources,” Ish says. “I started writing scouting reports and sending them to NFL scouts asking for some feedback.” He also applied for the Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, an internship created by the NFL to give participants a unique glimpse into Player Personnel by introducing them to various areas associated with college and pro scouting within a club. The fellowship, named in honor of Bill Nunn, longtime personnel director for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and John Wooten, a former NFL player and front-office executive, is part of the NFL’s Football Development program under NFL Football Operations.

Ish was having conversations with the Indianapolis Colts when Covid hit in 2020. The fellowship was put on hold but the Hokies still had to evaluate and recruit players. “Covid put me back a year in my NFL job hunt, but fortunately I was able to work for Virginia Tech online as a recruiting assistant,” Ish explains. Despite the fact that he didn’t get many answers, he continued emailing NFL scouts, some of whom responded and even sought out his opinions and stayed in touch. The 2021 Draft was a very strong year for the Hokies, with four players being drafted, two in round 1, Caleb Farley (Tennessee Titans) and Christian Darrisaw (Minnesota Vikings). Divine Deablo was a round 3 pick for the Raiders and Khalil Herbert was a round 6 pick for the Bears. “That really helped me build some connections within the NFL, because scouts were looking for intel on my former teammates.” Through the Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, Ish landed interviews with the Broncos and the Cardinals and started his internship with the Broncos in June of 2021. 

“Always be yourself, be confident in your assessments, and have conviction in what you say.”

It wasn’t easy at first. In fact, he found himself questioning whether he belonged there. Ish had never worked in that kind of professional setting before, and let’s face it, dreaming about a job in the NFL is one thing, getting it and starting is nerve wracking. He got some good advice he says he didn’t listen to at first. “Always be yourself, be confident in your assessments, and have conviction in what you say,” Ish remembers. He also stresses the importance of character and having a strong work ethic to gain the respect of your colleagues. “Be honest, work hard, and be precise in what you do. Be trustworthy. Be committed to the process. Be a good person and always be on time.”

Even with a promotion from intern to pro/college scout in May of 2023, Ish says he’s at the bottom of the Broncos scouting hierarchy—but he’s working hard to keep moving up. “It’s what I imagined it would be. I’ve met really cool people and talented NFL evaluators. I’ve made new friendships, and I’ve built a good relationship with a lot of people around the league.” Ish is just grateful for where he is right now, and he’s really excited for the future and what it could bring—”I’m happy, I am learning a lot and I will continue to grow both personally and professionally.”

Being a Scout and Master Juggler

Ish is in an interesting position, scouting both college and pro players. Generally, scouting is divided into college scouts and pro scouts. Currently, he covers the state of Nebraska, the Canadian Football League, college international players, and the United Football League. He also evaluates all the international prospects in the NFL’s International Pathway Program, which aims to provide elite athletes from around the world the opportunity to earn a spot on an NFL roster and increase the number of international players in the league. And if that’s not enough, he has five pro teams to cover during the season, evaluating each team’s entire roster and practice squad. Wow. “Yeah,” he laughs, “it was a long year.”

 NFL scouts begin their evaluations with the basics: assessing athletic prowess and physical attributes. They are focused on football’s foundational qualities, identifying players who demonstrate exceptional speed, strength, and agility. For instance, when evaluating a wide receiver, scouts closely examine their ability to accelerate down the field, gauging both their burst and maximum speed. When evaluating linemen, they scrutinize their raw power and capacity to dominate opponents, crucial for safeguarding the quarterback or disrupting the opposing offense.

In addition to these performance metrics, factors such as height, weight, and arm length carry substantial weight in assessments. A taller stature may afford a quarterback better visibility over the offensive line, while longer arms can enhance a defensive back’s ability to disrupt passes effectively. When combined with athletic performance, these physical attributes contribute to crafting a comprehensive profile of a player’s potential impact in the NFL.                  

The flow of the year begins on July 25, the report date for camp. “You’re assigned the teams you’re going to follow throughout training camp and the season,” Ish says. “During camp you focus on guys who are on the bubble of making the team, if they get cut, you want to make sure to have evaluations on them just in case you want to sign them to your team.” The process continues through the preseason. Between the end of preseason and October 6, the goal is to evaluate each player on the practice squad. Next, they work on evaluating the pro teams assigned to them. “You have to evaluate each player by the end of the season,” Ish says and smiles. “Five teams, 53 players per team, you can do the math!” At the same time that he’s evaluating the pro teams, he has to spend October and November traveling to all the schools in Nebraska to collect character information, watch film and practices, and write evaluations on the upcoming NFL prospects, which are due in early December. And, all the recommendations on the Canadian league players are due in November. When the season ends in January, or February if the Broncos go to the Super Bowl, they shift to the All-Star college games, go to the NFL Combine, and prepare for free agency, not to mention going to college Pro Days in March. By April 15 all the Broncos players are back and then a week later it’s time for the Draft. The draft picks all report to Denver for a rookie mini-camp. So really, Ish is a pro/college scout and master juggler. 

You Have to Love Football

When he was dreaming about a job in the NFL, the best piece of advice Ish received was to, “be around football as much as possible.” It seems obvious, but it isn’t always easy to beat out the competition for sports-related jobs—and it takes more than that to get through the NFL door. Ish says, “It’s about dedication, persistence, and developing a tough skin.” He recommends networking and reaching out on LinkedIn to seek advice and build relationships—and setting goals.

“I was really proud when I got my scholarship from Virginia Tech, because I wrote that down as a goal in 2017 and achieved it in 2019,” Ish says. “In June of 2022 I wrote on a sticky note and pasted it to my wall that I wanted to be promoted to pro/college scout with the Broncos after two years as an intern, and I was promoted a year later.” He believes setting goals keeps you focused and propels you forward. “At first you are thinking, ‘Can I really do this? Do I belong? Do I fit in?’ When you set and achieve your goals and prove you can do it, it boosts your confidence.” Ish writes his goals in his notebook and on sticky notes that he posts on his mirror. They are his daily affirmations that he can and will continue to grow and succeed. And for the love of football, he will.