As spring became summer and the calendar flipped from May to June, Orson Charles sat at his home in Atlanta, out of work.
At some point, most NFL players must decide if their football careers are over before they’re physically ready for it to be. Charles, 26, had pondered whether or not to retire for months. The former Georgia tight end was not on a team but not quite ready to give up the sport he has played since he was 12.
And then, on June 1, the Kansas City Chiefs called.
Charles’ last team, the Detroit Lions, cut him in the middle of the 2016 season. It had been the third time Charles was cut from a team in six years.
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“I know this is going to be my last chance,” Charles said. “I know that.”
After he was cut by the Lions, Charles began to seriously consider retirement. He said he consistently asked coaches how he was playing and they told him he was doing everything he needed to do. When he was cut he didn’t understand why.
No other teams called. He was in limbo.
“It was taxing my faith,” Charles said. “There was a point in time when I was actually going to be done with it.”
Looking in Charles’ eyes, Aubrey Shines didn’t believe he was finished with football. Shines, an evangelical Bishop who has known Charles since he was an early teenager, didn’t want Charles to live with regrets. So he sat Charles down.
“I didn't want him to look back and ask himself if he should have tried again,” Shines said. “Whether something great came out of it or not wasn't even the point. The issue had to be, are you really sure you're spent in this area?
“In my opinion, that was the area when the paradigm shifted for him. Right there.”
Charles was quiet at first, Shines said., before deciding he wasn’t ready to give up. He had received his degree in housing from Georgia in May 2016 and moved to Atlanta for the university’s extensive alumni network in case the call never came. But he continued to train, holding onto the hope he would sign somewhere.
After the phone rang that day, Charles' trainer, Lilian Abdelmalek, said she saw a tight end given another chance train harder.
“I had to tell him to take some time and rest,” Abdelmalek said.
Two months after he got the call from the Chiefs, Charles was drenched in sweat following a full pads practice on July 31. It was the peak of summer in the midwest, but Charles wore long sleeves. His shirt stuck to him. The practice didn’t go too well for Charles.
Coaches challenged him on his blocking. Near the end of an 11-on-11 period, he ran a seam route and didn’t turn his head around soon enough. The football hit him in the back of the helmet.
“Being on the wrong page with the quarterback,” Charles said of the play. “We're figuring that out.”
Charles is competing for the Chiefs’ final tight end spot. He has taken snaps at fullback as well. If Charles makes the team, most of his snaps would come on special teams. The former fourth round pick won’t be a starter but he doesn’t seem to mind.
However he can help the team, Charles said, he will.
“If you make it easy (for a team to cut you), it's going to be easy,” Charles said. “If you make it very hard, then it's going to be hard for them to let you go. That's whole my mindset right now -- making it hard for them to let me go.”