Out of football for two years, Cameron Wake thought he was out of chances.
It was the spring of 2007, and Wake was desperate to play anywhere, Canada included. He scored a tryout with the CFL’s BC Lions, but couldn’t have blown it worse. He never even showed up.
Oh, Wake drove to the workout at the agreed upon time. But when he arrived at Washington’s Howard University, ready to sprint, shuttle and hit, no one was there to scout him. See, the tryout was actually at Hampton University, which would be easy for his agent to confuse, if the school wasn’t located three hours to the south.
Five years later, all Wake needs is directions to the airport. A Honolulu-bound jumbo jet will take care of the rest.
Wake was named as a starter on the AFC Pro Bowl team Wednesday night, becoming the lone Dolphin selected to the NFL’s all-star game. Wake, an electric pass-rusher, is headed to the Pro Bowl for the second time after tallying a career-high 15 sacks in the season’s first 15 games.
“Considering where I came from, [making the Pro Bowl] is an amazing accomplishment,” Wake said late Wednesday. “It wasn’t a walk in the park. There wasn’t a silver spoon. I took some back roads.
“By representing the Miami Dolphins, I can take the story I’ve had, and show people that if you believe in yourself and follow your dreams, anything can happen.”
Wake’s story is now a bit of South Florida folklore. Even though Wake missed his tryout — he went home that day thinking, “I’m done” — the BC Lions still signed him based on his college tape, presumably as a training-camp body.
But Wake raced up the depth chart and went on to dominate the CFL for two years before getting a shot with the Dolphins in 2009. He has been a force ever since.
“I want to congratulate Cam on his well-deserved honor,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said in a statement. “I am sure he will represent the Miami Dolphins in a first-class manner when he is in Hawaii.”
While Wake was ecstatic, Brandon Fields, Mike Pouncey and Karlos Dansby were probably a bit bummed. All three were left off the team despite strong seasons.
Fields, the Dolphins’ dependable punter, had the most reason to feel snubbed. He leads the conference in punting average (50.3 yards) and is fifth in net (41.1). He got passed over for Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt, who averages three yards less per punt than Fields.
As for the center position, a Pouncey got in. Just not Mike Pouncey. His twin brother Maurkice got the nod instead. But according to Pro Football Focus, Mike has been the better player this year. The scouting serviced lists Mike Pouncey as the AFC’s second-best center in 2012; Maurkice ranks eighth.
But Pro Bowl voting is just as much a popularity contest as it is an evaluation of performance, and Maurkice Pouncey plays for the Steelers, who have one of the league’s most ardent fan bases.
When asked earlier in the day how he would feel if he was left off the team in favor of his brother, Mike Pouncey said: “I’m happy. I’ll be over there with him. If one of us goes, we’re both out there.”
Dansby also had a strong case, although was a long shot to make the team. His 95 solo tackles lead the Dolphins.
While Dansby has been solid, he hasn’t made the big, game-changing plays that get you on SportsCenter. Wake has — ever since he arrived in Miami.
His 43 sacks since 2009 are the most of any Dolphins player in their first four seasons, and rank seventh-most overall in team history.
He becomes the third Dolphins defensive end to be named to multiple Pro Bowls, joining Bill Stanfill (four times) and Jason Taylor (six times).
But it hasn’t come without sacrifice. Wake said he hasn’t drunk alcohol since he was a sophomore at Penn State. He has a strict, no-fat, no-fast-food diet, sticking instead to lean meats, vegetables and whole grains.
“I got, hopefully, another 70 years to do all of that,” Wake said. “I can eat cheeseburgers and run on the beach and chase women and do all that craziness. I only have, what, five years to go out there and throw offensive tackles around.
“If I can sacrifice now, later on I can do what I want.’’
Driving home from his missed tryout five years ago, Wake didn’t know what his future held. But he was pretty sure it wasn’t this — a life of fame, riches and now critical acclaim.
“I feel like I’m the best at what I do,” Wake said. “Without a doubt. I’m going to work hard every day to improve on that.”