Past and present football players at Servite High School rarely perform favors for those from longtime arch-rival Mater Dei, but veteran offensive lineman Ryan Kalil, who played for the Friars in 2001 and 2002, is indirectly coming to the aid of Thomas Duarte and Max Wittek, both Mater Dei graduates who are trying to break into the NFL this summer.
Kalil, who is preparing for his 10th season with the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, co-authored a lighthearted book during the offseason that’s aimed at helping rookies make it through their first year in the league.
“The Rookie Handbook: How to Survive the First Season in the NFL,” is set to be released in early September and includes sections on how to avoid bad rookie haircuts, how to select workout attire that makes you run faster and the best strategy to use during an on-field fight.
“This one-of-a-kind manual uses illustrations and humor to examine the day-to-day life of a professional football player, through the lens of a rookie,” a release from the book’s publisher, Regan Arts, stated.
Sounds like just the right publication to drop on Duarte and Wittek’s coffee table.
Duarte graduated from Mater Dei in 2013 and played the next three seasons at UCLA. He led the Bruins with 10 touchdown receptions as a junior last season and his 872 receiving yards were 14th-most in school history.
Duarte, listed at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds at the start of last season, is facing another crossroads in his career this spring. He wasn’t sure if he’d be drafted into the NFL as a wide receiver, where he’d mostly played in high school and college, or tight end, which requires a much bigger frame than Duarte possesses.
“I knew once I went somewhere they would tell me, ‘We want you at this weight,’” Duarte said. “It was a little nerve-wracking walking that line, but it was expected.”
Duarte was taken by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round, a team that wanted to transform him into a tight end. Duarte obliged, already bulking up to 245 pounds by the end of June.
Wittek followed in the footsteps of Matt Barkley at Mater Dei and experienced just one season as the starting quarterback in 2010. Still, that was enough to earn a scholarship to USC, where he again backed up Barkley. He briefly played in November of 2012 after Barkley went down with a shoulder injury, but was beat out for the starting job the following season by Cody Kessler.
Wittek decided to transfer during the offseason and enrolled at Hawaii, where he used his final season of eligibility last fall. Things didn’t go so well there either, as he completed only 47.2 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Wittek’s lack of playing time during college and his ineffectiveness in his final season at Hawaii hurt his draft stock and he was not selected last spring. The Jacksonville Jaguars decided to give him a shot, however, inviting him to rookie camp as an undrafted free agent.
“I just need reps to continue to get better,” Wittek said after rookie orientation.
Duarte and Wittek are aware of what they need to achieve if they hope to make it to the NFL. If they need additional pointers, Kalil knows a good book to read.