Like most young boys growing up, Grenadian C.J. Avery had a dream of playing professional football one day.
As time went by, Avery realized this dream had a chance to come true and the recent University of Louisville graduate has set his sights as being one of the names called when the 2022 NFL Draft opens Thursday in Paradise, Nev.
“When I was a junior in high school, I had a sense that I was pretty good because things came easy to me,” Avery said. “When I got to college and was playing with some really great players like Lamar Jackson and some other great players we had at our school, I was doing good. That is when I realized I could maybe do this, making a career out of this. It was probably my sophomore season when it really clicked.”
Avery recently graduated with his master’s degree in athletic administration from Louisville. The son of Claudette and Chris Avery, C.J. finished his Louisville career with 249 total tackles. He came to school as a safety and left as one of the top inside linebackers in the Atlantic Coast Conference school’s history.
After taking three days following the end of the 2022 season, Avery spent his pre-draft workout time in Seattle, Wash., training with Seattle Seahawks All-Pro linebacker K.J. Wright and Super Bowl champion Bobby Wagner of the Los Angeles Rams. Wright is a native of DeSoto County and played collegiately at Mississippi State.
The workouts were long and strenuous.
“It was a long process, getting up at 6 or 7 a.m. to eat breakfast,” Avery said. “Then, you would go into the workout facility to stretch and get ready for the workout. The first part of the workout is similar to track work – they put you through various drills with running making sure you know how to run. Then, we get an hour break and prepare for weight training. We did some kind of weight lifting every day.”
In the afternoon, players were put through position drills. Afterwards was recovery time and prepare for the next day of work.
No Combine Invite
Potential draftees received formal invitations to perform for NFL coaches, general managers and owners. A total of 327 prospects gathered in Indianapolis, Ind., for meetings and workouts. Avery wasn’t among that group invited, but had an opportunity to participate in Pro Day at Louisville.
“I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get the invite to the combine,” he said. “I tried to look at it in a positive way that maybe it was an opportunity for me to be the underdog and not get down on myself. I knew that I had a Pro Day to show what I could do and that I deserved an invitation to the Combine. At the same time, going to the Combine can be a good thing and a bad thing. “
Avery added that he knows there are areas of his game that need improvement.
“The biggest transition from college to the NFL, according to guys I talk to, is getting off blocks,” he said. “I’m pretty good at that, but it’s an area of my game that is going to be crucial at the next level. I feel like I have great coverage skills from my time as a safety, but there is always room for improvement.”
At inside linebacker, a player has one of three possibilities in coverage, according to Avery.
“Most of the time linebackers deal with a hook-curl player, zone dropper or a man on a running back or tight end,” he said. “You want to work so you can be comfortable in space with guys.”
A safety in high school for Grenada High School Head Football Coach Ashley Kuhn and Defensive Coordinator Chip Foster, Avery says playing inside linebacker is much different.
“The biggest difference of making the move from safety was learning to play in the box against guards and tackles,” he said. “You have to learn how to defeat those big guys.”
Adding to the List
Avery, along with former high school teammate J.J. Russell, will be anxiously awaiting the Draft this week. If they both get drafted, Grenada would have four players on NFL teams. Currently, Tyre Phillips (Baltimore Ravens) and Genard Avery (Pittsburgh Steelers) are Grenadians on rosters.
Avery says this continues to shine light on Grenada and Grenada County.
“My goal has always been to put shine on Grenada,” he said. “I’m proud of everyone that is out there continuing to chase their dreams, even all of the ones in college.”
The Draft will take place April 28-30. Avery plans to be in Grenada celebrating the time with his family. His father, Chris, was a standout player for Coach Neil Hitchcock and Grenada High School. Chris went on to star at Holmes Community College and later to Kentucky State. He played Arena Football with the Norfolk Nighthawks, Barcelona Dragons, Grand Rapids Rampage and Kansas City Rampage.
The elder Avery had that same goal as his son but, didn’t see that happen. Now, he has the chance to live that through his son.
“In some instances, I play for my Daddy,” Avery said. “He gets to live the game through me. I take a lot of pride in that. He was a beast in high school and college, and I try to emulate myself out there and he continues to be a proud father.”
ESPN, ABC and NFL Network will air the draft. Thursday’s start time will be 7 p.m., while Friday activities begin at 6 p.m. The final day is set for noon on Saturday.