Troy Bergeron didn’t doubt himself. He was a star receiver on Shaw’s undefeated 2000 state championship team, a highly sought-after recruit and an indoor-football star.
So he knew when the Atlanta Falcons cut him before he could play a regular-season game in 2006 that he had the potential to find his way back. He just didn’t know how long it would take.
“I always thought I had a shot to get back there,” the former Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Offensive Player of the Year said. “It was kind of hard the last couple years when nobody was interested in me after I was injured in 2007, when I tore my MCL. It felt good when the Falcons finally called me to go work out again.”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound wide receiver impressed the Falcons’ staff enough to earn an invitation back after the team’s three-day minicamp ended last Sunday. His signing on May 10 is what he had been working for since he last had a shot at the NFL.
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Bergeron was the 2005 Arena Football League Rookie of the Year with the Georgia Force, and his 1,372 yards and 31 touchdowns that season catapulted him into a minicamp deal with the Falcons in 2006 that lasted through the final preseason game. He then came close again later that year when he signed as a member of the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad in Week 13 of the season.
Since then, he has had to deal with rehabbing his injury and the cancellation of the 2009 AFL season. But he has found a way to stand out in a minor league market flooded with players on the cusp of their next opportunity, accumulating more than 400 yards receiving and a dozen touchdowns in six games with the American Indoor Football League’s Columbus Lions this season.
And this time around, he said he feels like his chances of sticking with the Falcons into the regular season are much better, thanks in large part to the time he has spent studying the game.
“I feel a lot more prepared this time,” Bergeron said. “The last time I signed, I hadn’t played outdoor since high school. I know the outdoor game a lot better now, playing with the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad helped a lot, and now I feel like I have a better chance to compete.”
Bergeron found the mental strength to overcome a potentially career-ending injury and to remain positive while paying his dues in the AFL and AIFA, but it doesn’t mean he is in any better condition physically.
When he signed with the Falcons in 2006, he had been spending a lot of time in the weight room. This time around, he is a bit lighter and he shows a little more wear.
“The last time I signed, I was training a lot, and, this time, I was badly beat up from playing with the Lions,” Bergeron said. “I was probably in better shape the first time, but I wanted to drop some weight this time. I’m in shape; I just haven’t been training as hard.”
Injury already has played a role in his most recent signing. The Falcons picked up Bergeron on April 28 but released him a day later, when he failed to pass a physical. He had hurt a hamstring playing for the Lions a few days earlier, and the Falcons were hesitant to sign someone with even a minor injury, he said.
So the Falcons told him to take a break from playing with the Lions and come back when he was healed. If he got the OK from trainers, the team would sign him to another minicamp deal.
At 25, Bergeron may be a late entrant to the NFL race. But age may be the only number he hasn’t factored into his expectations. More important, he said, have been the few yet impressive reps he got at the minicamp, the number of players he is up against and the time and money the Falcons have sunk into each.
“I didn’t get a lot of reps at the minicamp — maybe four or five — it was mostly the first and second team going,” Bergeron said. “But the ones I got, I made all my catches and did everything right. The only hard part, really, was learning all the new plays, and I did that pretty good.”
And since Atlanta did not draft a receiver this year, Bergeron said he is as good an option to fill the final receiver spot as any candidate.
“It makes it a little easier that they don’t have any money invested in anyone else yet,” Bergeron said. “I’m competing against other free agents, so I feel like I have a pretty good chance this time. The competition is always tough, definitely, but they haven’t invested in anyone yet.”
The Falcons have nine receivers on their roster and likely have nailed down spots for returners Roddy White, Harry Douglas, Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran. That leaves five players battling for the final spot on the depth chart.
“Before I got hurt in 2007, I had seven teams wanting to sign me,” Bergeron said. “This is the best opportunity I’ve had since then, so I want to make it work.”
Contact Chris White at 706-571-8571