The great majority of athletes who are given tryouts on NFL football teams have extensive experience at the college level. College football programs are the primary "minor leagues" of the NFL. Athletes with impressive college football credentials and experience are prime candidates for NFL tryouts. Their agent can send a tape of the highlights of their career to the NFL team and request a tryout.
The Arena Football League provided athletes a place to keep in contact with the sport as well as make a modest living. This league, however, canceled the 2009 season and ceased operation. There are numerous other arena leagues. Former players are often invited to participate in NFL tryouts if their skills are impressive enough to meet the standards and the speed of the NFL game. Kurt Warner, who was quarterback for the Super Bowl-winning St. Louis Rams team in 1999, played arena football and is proof that entry into the NFL through arena football is a viable option.
Other athletes keep their skills fresh in the Canadian Football League. This league has been a major contributor to the NFL talent pool, providing a chance for athletes such as Doug Flutie, formerly of the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills; Warren Moon, the Houston Oilers quarterback who was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; and others to break into the ranks of the NFL.
Many soccer players have made the transition from kicking a soccer ball to kicking a football. These athletes often did not go through the college football ranks or participate in other professional leagues. Norway's Jan Stenerud, who was a placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, and Hungarian soccer player Pete Gogalak, who played the same position for the Buffalo Bills, were among the first of many soccer players to break into the NFL with a soccer-style kick.
There have been many athletes who have played two sports at the same time. Athletes from other sports are eligible to try out for the NFL teams. Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers was a college basketball player. Dallas Cowboys star Bob Hayes was one of several track stars to be converted to a wide receiver. Professional wrestlers have made the transition to defensive and offensive linemen. A few athletes have played baseball and football professionally at the same time, including Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders.
United Football League
The United Football League began in 2009 and has four teams. Their rosters include players who were formerly in the NFL and would like to return, such as former New York Jets quarterback Brooks Bollinger and ex-Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. There also have been several players who have left the UFL to play in the NFL.