Clint Ratkovich walked onto the Atlanta Falcons’ observe discipline in late December, and all of it felt surreal.
Ratkovich, a Crete-Monee graduate, was beginning to stay out his NFL goals eight months after a torn ACL threw every thing about his future into query.
“It definitely hit me that first day of practice, being out on the field with those guys and not really knowing what to expect,” Ratkovich mentioned. “It was my first observe, mainly, in a yr. It was superior to be on the market flying round.
“Growing up as a kid, that’s always the goal and the dream to get to the NFL. When you’re finally out there, it’s kind of a weird feeling. It switches to, ‘OK, I’m out here but now I have to stay out here. I better start performing.’”
Ratkovich, a fullback, was signed Dec. 27 to the Falcons’ observe squad and spent the final two weeks of the season training with the staff. On Jan. 9, Atlanta signed him to a reserve/future contract for the 2023 season.
Practice squad gamers may be signed by any NFL staff. By tying up Ratkovich, the Falcons guarantee he’ll stick with them. The transfer reveals the Falcons see Ratkovich as a precedence rookie with a shot to make the energetic roster within the fall.
Ratkovich spent a lot of 2022 uncertain if he would ever be on this place.
Crete-Monee’s all-time main rusher with 2,673 yards throughout his highschool profession, Ratkovich starred for 3 seasons at Western Illinois as a receiver, working again and kick returner.
He transferred to Northern Illinois for his senior season in 2021 and thrived at that stage, too. He scored 14 touchdowns, together with 12 speeding.
Ratkovich impressed NFL scouts through the buildup to the draft. Some rankings had him because the No. 1 fullback prospect.
But whereas figuring out for the Green Bay Packers lower than two weeks earlier than the NFL draft, he tore the ACL in his proper knee.
“I felt like I was doing really well and I was getting really good feedback,” Ratkovich mentioned. “It’s unhappy to say it was the final route of the whole exercise.
“I caught a corner ball, went to go finish up field, and I just landed on it wrong and heard it pop. It was bad luck.”
Ratkovich was devastated, understanding he wouldn’t be drafted.
“It was tough,” Ratkovich mentioned. “I bear in mind watching draft day. It went just a little bit in a different way than I anticipated. Instead of hopefully getting my identify referred to as a type of days, I used to be sitting there in a brace. I feel it was three days after my surgical procedure.
“If anything, though, it just made me push even a little bit more.”
Ratkovich was cleared to return to soccer about six months later. Former Bears normal supervisor Ryan Pace, who now works in scouting for the Falcons, gave Ratkovich a shot.
“He said he was following me when he was in Chicago, that they were really happy I’m healthy and would love to get me in for a workout,” Ratkovich mentioned. “I flew down, had a really good workout and the rest is history.”
Ratkovich hopes to hitch receivers Laquon Treadwell, Lance Lenoir and Tywan Mitchell as Crete-Monee merchandise to play within the NFL.
“There’s no substitute for having a dream and working toward it tirelessly,” Crete-Monee coach John Konecki mentioned. “You shoot for the stars, you have to believe in yourself and you have to have that insatiable desire to get there. Clint certainly has that.”
Now, Ratkovich will put together for offseason exercises and rookie minicamp.
“I’m definitely not going to take this opportunity for granted,” he mentioned. “I’m going to use these next few months to get bigger, stronger, faster. Hopefully everything will come to fruition and I can be out there on the field in the fall.”
Steve Millar is a contract reporter for the Daily Southtown.