Former Navy football player Peter Nestrowitz had a big decision to make upon returning home to New Jersey for the winter break.
Should he stay in football shape for the purpose of pursuing the sport at the professional level or should he start shedding weight in preparation for passing the Physical Readiness Test that is a requirement for graduating from the Naval Academy?
Nestrowitz reached out to his former coach at Paramus Catholic for advice. Chris Partridge is now the co-defensive coordinator at Mississippi and knew some NFL scouts.
Partridge received favorable reports from various contacts and recommended Nestrowitz go for it.
“I wasn’t really sure if I was on the [NFL] radar or not. That’s what I was trying to find out,” Nestrowitz said. “After talking to some important mentors like coach Partridge, I realized I wanted to keep pushing myself to get bigger and stronger. It’s one of those things that can only happen once, so why not chase after it?”
Cameron Kinley felt like he was done with football as he departed the academy and headed home to Memphis, Tennessee for the holidays. Kinley came off the bench for the last two games of his Navy career, a bitter pill to swallow for a team captain with 23 career starts under his belt.
“Senior season didn’t really go as expected and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was questioning where I stood with the game of football,” Kinley said. “Coming back home and working out with my little brother, spending time with my dad who introduced me to football … my love for the game was reignited and I realized I still have a lot to give.”
Nestrowitz and Kinley have been rewarded for their decisions to not hang up the helmet just yet.
Nestrowitz was invited to play in a pair of annual senior all-star games — the Tropical Bowl in Florida and Hula Bowl in Hawaii. Kinley attended the College Gridiron Showcase in Texas last week and this week received a late invitation to the Hula Bowl.
“When I found out about the Tropical Bowl, I put myself into an extra gear and trained really hard. I’ve been stepping it up steadily ever since,” Nestrowitz said. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to put the pads again. While I was down at the Tropical Bowl, I realized how much I missed football.”
Nestrowitz was speaking last week from his home in Township of Washington, New Jersey, where he has been since shortly after Navy lost to archrival Army on Dec. 12. He received the Hula Bowl invitation two days before departing for the Tropical Bowl, which was held at Celebration High in Orlando, Florida.
Scouts from 26 NFL teams and four Canadian Football League clubs attended the Tropical Bowl, which consisted of two days of practices followed by the sixth annual all-star game on Jan. 17.
Nestrowitz started at right guard for the National team then shifted to left guard. The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder also played 20 snaps at center, showcasing his versatility. He was easily the smallest starting offensive lineman alongside the likes of Tennessee center Brandon Kennedy (6-2, 300), Louisiana Tech guard Donavaughn Campbell (6-5, 338) and Florida International tackle D’Antne Demery (6-6, 300).
“I felt like I played pretty well considering the long layoff. I didn’t give up any pressure or sacks and we had some good run plays behind me,” said Nestrowitz, who spent much of the Tropical Bowl blocking Virginia Tech defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt (6-1, 280).
“I can certainly understand why the pro scouts would show an interest in Peter. He has the skill set to play at the next level,” Navy running game coordinator Ashley Ingram said. “I think Peter’s athleticism and toughness are what intrigue the scouts. They see a kid who moves really well for his size.”
Ingram personally tutors the guards and centers at Navy and helped develop Nestrowitz into a two-year starter. The Midshipmen struggled offensively this past season, but Nestrowitz was still named first team All-American Athletic Conference.
Merely talking about the prospect of playing in the NFL is somewhat mind-boggling for Nestrowitz, who was buried on the depth chart as a plebe and tried hard to leave the Naval Academy.
“My freshman year was rough. There were times when I thought I would never get on the field for Navy or even travel,” he said. “You take a step back now and reflect on the last four years. You think about how far you have come as a player and it puts things in perspective.”
Ingram said the coaching staff recognized Nestrowitz’s talent earlier than the Paramus Catholic product did. He began to blossom as a sophomore, starting three of the final four games of the 2018 season at tackle.
“Peter is probably as talented an offensive lineman as we’ve had,” said Ingram, who just completed his 13th season at Navy. “He’s athletic, explosive and can bend his hips. He’s a really, really tough and durable kid.”
Ingram believes Nestrowitz could play in the NFL provided he was drafted or signed by a team willing to show patience.
“I think it would be best if Peter found an organization that realized he’s a work in progress and his better days are ahead,” Ingram said. “He’s a very motivated young man and would work extremely hard if given the chance.”
Nestrowitz has been in contact with an agent but has not hired one just yet. Kinley, on the other hand, has signed with Michael De Sane of Divine Sports and Entertainment.
“It was very exciting to get that call from my agent and I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity. I feel blessed to get a chance to compete in front of the scouts,” Kinley said of receiving the late invitation to the Hula Bowl. “Being able to have that memory and one day tell my kids I played in the Hula Bowl is special.”
Kinley becomes the 29th Navy player selected to play in the Hula Bowl, which was founded in 1957. This marks the first time two Midshipmen have been chosen since 1999 when wide receiver Travis Williams and center Terrence Anderson traveled to Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
Kinley spent three days at the College Gridiron Showcase in Fort Worth, Texas, and believes his performance there led to the Hula Bowl invite. More than 100 scouts representing 31 of 32 NFL teams were in attendance — conducting interviews and watching senior prospects go through position drills.
“There was a lot of tough competition down there and I performed pretty well at that combine,” said Kinley, who finished with 87 tackles and 12 pass breakups during his collegiate career.
Kinley and Navy slotback Myles Fells raised some eyebrows recently when they posted to social media they were declaring for the NFL Draft. Normally, only underclassmen make such announcements as it means they are foregoing remaining eligibility to turn professional.
While acknowledging the Twitter and Instagram posts were designed to gain exposure, Kinley also called them “messages of inspiration.”
“I’ve always preached that you can accomplish anything you want to if you believe in yourself and really put your mind to doing it,” he said.
Nestrowitz and Kinley have both received information warfare community as service assignments. They are scheduled to begin intelligence school in Virginia in August.
“I’ve been playing football since I was 4 years old and it’s always been a dream to reach the pros. I didn’t want to live with the regret of wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t tried,” Kinley said. “I’m going to do everything possible to put myself in position to make it happen. If things don’t work out, I’m looking forward to serving my country.”