Darren Fells played four years of college basketball at UC Irvine and another five years of professional basketball in places like Belgium, Finland and Argentina, but the former high school football standout had an itch to try football once again after giving up the sport for college.
The 28-year-old Fells was an all-state receiver at Fullerton High School in California but opted to play basketball at UC Irvine instead of football scholarship offers to programs like UCLA.
But after seeing the success of other college basketball players transitioning to pro football tight ends, like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, the 6-foot-7, 281-pound Fells decided to give it a shot when he grew tired of his basketball career.
It didn’t hurt that Fells was a talented high school player and that his brother, Daniel Fells, is already a NFL tight end with the New York Giants.
After trying to latch on with the Seattle Seahawks, Fells finally stuck with the Arizona Cardinals practice squad last season, and according to Helene Elliot the Los Angeles Times, Fells finally has a chance to make his NFL debut on Sunday, 18 months after he returned to football.
“It’s still, to this day, pretty surreal to me,” Fells said to Elliot. “I hadn’t been on a football field in nine years and now here I am, playing for the Arizona Cardinals.”
Fells averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game in 123 career games at UC Irvine but players from the Big West don’t make the NBA very often. If Fells enters a regular season game as he could on Sunday, he would be the first person from UC Irvine ever to play in the NFL, since the school doesn’t have a football program.
It would be yet another college basketball-turned-NFL story if Fells were to get some playing time for the Cardinals, but even if he isn’t an All-Pro or a starter, his story of being away from football for nine years and making a NFL roster is very unique in recent sports history.
Arizona hosts the San Francisco 49ers at 4:05 p.m. EST on Sunday.