The article below originally appeared on SBNation.com and is being reprinted with permission.
Undrafted free agent Eddie Elder was as surprised as anyone when he was handed the number 42 jersey to wear during the Arizona Cardinals training camp this year. Before trying to get a job with the Cardinals, Elder played safety at ASU for two years, so he was well aware of the history and the meaning behind the number. When asked about the number, Elder said, “Honestly, I didn’t pick this number, it was a coincidence.” He went on to say “I’m honored to wear this number. Pat Tillman is a great person who did everything for Arizona State and the state, so it’s an honor.”
Back in 1994, Pat Tillman was given the final scholarship awarded to an Arizona State football player that year. He wore the number 42 jersey during his playing days at Arizona State, where he excelled at linebacker despite being undersized for his position. After a successful college career, Tillman was drafted as a safety by the Arizona Cardinals in 1998, and wore the number 40. Tillman was well on his way to a very long and successful professional football career, but after the September 11 attacks, he turned down a $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals to enlist in the Army and serve his country in 2002. In a very unfortunate incident, Tillman was killed by friendly fire in April 2004, while serving in Afghanistan. After his passing, Arizona State retired the number 42, and the Cardinals retired the number 40.
Coincidence or not, Eddie Elder played and graduated from ASU, he also plays safety, and is an undersized football player at 5’10” and 185 pounds. Elder has had to overcome obstacles along his journey to become a professional football player. After being academically ineligible to enroll at Oregon, Elder attended the College of San Mateo. While there, he played in over 20 games, and by the time he left for Arizona State in 2010, Elder held the school record with 13 interceptions, and had won the NorCal Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009. Once he transferred to Arizona State, Elder started 20 games for the Sun Devils, and played in all 25 games during his two seasons. He finished his Sun Devil career with 130 tackles, three interceptions, seven passes defended, one sack, and one forced fumble.
Despite having a successful college football career that included playing for a Division 1 school, Elder did not hear his name called during the 2012 NFL Draft. After going undrafted, Elder did what he has always done before when faced with adversity, and found another way. Elder attended the Cardinals rookie mini-camp in May, and was brought back to the Cardinals training camp in Flagstaff to compete for a job on the team. As far as not being drafted, Elder has said that he has always taken the long route, and just has to continue to prove himself, which is nothing new to him.
Elder says the biggest adjustment for him so far during the Cardinals training camp is getting the playbook down. He says there are a lot of plays and schemes, and, “It’s as big as the dictionary.” In addition to understanding where to line up and where to go during plays, Elder says that he is trying to soak up as much as he can from veterans such as Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson. He says, “I’m just trying to get experience, something under my belt.”
Perhaps being handed the number 42 is a sign that Elder will once again overcome another obstacle in his life. He has already overcome his size, obtained the first college degree in his family, and has completed a very successful college football career. Being a professional football player has always been something Elder has wanted since he was a kid, and with a little perseverance and determination, he just might reach his goal of playing in the NFL. Sounds a little like another player who used to wear the number 42.