It was early in the spring semester following Steve Cargile’s junior season at Columbia University when his new head coach, Bob Shoop, told the wide receiver that he’d be moving to free safety.
It might have been the best thing ever to happen to him — at least as a football player. It gave him a chance to make the NFL that he might not have had — and now, as the newest member of the Broncos’ 53-man roster, he’s one step closer to actually playing in the regular season for the first time.
“It was one of those things where I wanted to do whatever’s best for the team, and the second time I talked to (Shoop), he asked whether I would be willing to change positions, because the first time he saw me, he believed that I would be a safety,” Cargile recalled. “I think it was a combination of my size, my athleticism, the things that I could do, plus we had a nice receiving corps, and we were kind of struggling on defense a little bit. He asked if I would make the switch, and I thought about it, and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and once I did it, I was kind of happy I did it.
“It turned out for the best.”
Cargile was a fairly accomplished receiver at Columbia, but when he moved to defense, he immediately became a standout, leading the team in tackles and earning second-team All-Ivy League honors in 2003, his final season there — not too shabby, considering he’d scarcely played the position before.
However, he knew that his odds of finding traction in the NFL were better on the defensive side of the scrimmage line. It was a matter of possessing a scosh more control of his football future.
“Definitely. I think at the safety position you can kind of control your destiny a little bit more as far as what goes on,” Cargile said. “On offense, the ball has to be thrown to you; the play has to be called your way; the line has to block; the quarterback has to get the ball off; there are so many things that can inhibit you from getting the ball on offense, but at the safety position, you go after the ball and you attack what you see.”
He took a more unlikely route than most to the the NFL. He wasn’t invited to the National Scouting Combine in February 2004 and his school didn’t even have a Pro Day for its players to work out for pro scouts, leaving him to showcase his strength, speed and agility at Hofstra University out on Long Island.
That was enough for him to get noticed by the Dallas Cowboys, who signed him after the draft and then placed him on the practice squad for most of the 2004 season before promoting him to their active roster late in the year, although they didn’t use him on the field. Cargile didn’t think playing in the Ivy League would hinder his professional chances one whit.
“I had a couple of scholarship offers in the Mid-American Conference, but I was also being recruited by Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, schools like that, and I had a real good GPA, real good grades in high school,” he said. “I felt that it’s not guaranteed — even if I go to Ohio State — that I’m going to make it to the NFL, which was my dream, so I figured out that I’ll go get a good degree from a fine institution and if I was good enough, they (the NFL) would find me.”
They did. The Cowboys waived him in 2005, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers procured him the next year, and he thought he had a grip on a roster spot for this season. The Bucs, however, released him, even though he felt he played well in his summer with the red and pewter.
“It was just one of those things you just can’t control,” Cargile said.
Last month, the Broncos ended Cargile’s football unemployment by signing him to their practice squad after Sam Brandon went on injured reserve. At the time, Cargile’s immediate goal was realistic: to establish position and a practice-field reputation that would allow him to make the 53-man roster in 2007.
“If I can stay here, get to learn under these guys like I’ve been doing, just keep on working hard and let the coaches see what I can do — especially the special-teams coach — and other coaches, then hopefully I can set myself up for next year to actually compete,” he said just days after he joined the Broncos.
Cargile admits that he’s “still learning” how to play safety with just under four years of experience there.
“Every day I learn new things,” Cargile said. “I look at guys like John (Lynch) and Nick (Ferguson), and some of the veteran guys back at Tampa (Bay), and guys like Roy Williams and Darren Woodson in Dallas. I just learned something new from those guys every day.”
The Ivy League may be two and a half years in Cargile’s rear-view mirror, but his education continues unabated.