Aaron Pflugrad – Small Player, Big Heart

The road to the NFl is a tough one, fraught with injuries, contract negotiations and hard work.

Oh, and pain. lots and lots of pain.

But let’s start at the beginning of Aaron’s story, back when he was just a kid growing up in Arizona. Back in the mid-90s, Robin Pflugrad, Aaron’s dad, was working at Arizona State university as the wide receiver coach. he’d take his son with him to some of the practices and games, an experience that really stuck with the younger Pflugrad. “I was a little guy, and every practice I thought I was a bigger part of the team than I really was,” Aaron recalls.  “Those memories really made me very strong of Arizona State. I always loved Arizona State, and I just felt blessed to be able to come back and play for them.”

These were the glory days of ASu, back when Jake Plummer was the quarterback and Pat Tillman was playing on the line. The Sun Devils appeared in the Rose Bowl in 1997, and although they didn’t win, it was still a heck of a run, and young Aaron was on the sidelines watching it all.

Of course he was going to play football, and so his school career path went the same way. When his father took a gig at Oregon, he was signed to the football team as well, making it possible for his dad to watch him at every game. Nothing wrong with that. “It was awesome to have him there on the sidelines being able to watch me for my first two years,” Aaron says.

But what was it like for him that first time out on the field in front of thousands of screaming fans? “That’s pretty crazy. I think the main thing is to just know who you’re playing for — an audience of one — and in reality it’s just blocking all the fans out and knowing that you have the skills and talent to accomplish the things you want to do on the field.”

When his father was let go however, Aaron felt he needed to make a change. “After [my dad] got released as wide receiver coach, I went through spring ball but just felt like in my heart that it wasn’t right for me to stay there,” says Aaron. “I got my release and I didn’t know where I was going to go. But then Coach Erickson called me up and said, ‘We’d love to have you down here.’ I was just ecstatic.” It’s funny how fate works sometimes.

One thing that Aaron has experienced a lot throughout his time playing football is the doubters. “A lot of times people will look at you and automatically assume something and put limits on you. That’s the thing that I’ve really found rewarding over my career — being able to break those limits and do things that I knew I could do. I’ve proved a lot of people wrong.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Once college was done, it was time for him to move on to the big show. he knew he wanted to play in the NFl, but also knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy task. he needed to train. Prepare. Get better as an athlete, and that meant taking care of some nagging problems that had been plaguing him throughout his career.

See, despite being a football player, Aaron isn’t particularly large. It’s an asset of sorts for him as a wide receiver — being nimble and fast — but when he gets laid out by a guy who’s 6’5 250lbs, he’s going to feel it. That takes its toll on the body, and even at his young age he wanted to solve the issues before they became more serious. After all, this is his career, not just some hobby. “I had some issues as far as tightness in my calves. I’ve always had a little bit of ‘issues,’” he says.

So what was one of his solutions? “I had never tried acupuncture before, and I really wanted to give it a try,” Aaron says. “It was amazing. It felt like it made me get better, and it’s something I’m going to continue to do throughout my career.”

In addition, he also tried out different massage techniques and had some chiropractic work done as well. “I’m a smaller guy, so a lot of times when I get hit my back will be a little bit out of alignment, or my hips will be a little bit out of alignment. I think that’s real important for me as a wide receiver — to just have my back inline so I can move the way I need to move and not be hindered by it.”

Although this isn’t the typical treatment that the average wide receiver might get, for Aaron, it’s exactly what he needed. “It’s so much better when you can just go to one area and get everything you need to get done to heal fast.”

Unfortunately, Aaron wasn’t picked up in the NFl Draft, and a recent stint in Rookie Camp for the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t pan out. That doesn’t mean that he’s giving up, however. “I’m still really hoping that I’ll get another opportunity to play in the NFl; to go through the pre-season and learn and grow as a player.” To do that, he’s training hard every day and doing everything he can to get picked up.

Should that not work out, he still has a plan. he’s going to get into the family business — coaching. he’s already spoken to a college about learning the ropes on the other end of the sidelines, and that will be the next step. “They’re not really sure what it will be yet, but just a spot where I’d be able to help out with the team and travel with the team, and kind of get my foot in the door.”

Whatever happens with Aaron, we know that he’ll succeed because he’s got a positive attitude. “A lot of it is just not listening to people trying to put limits on you,” Aaron says. “I think you can say this for anything in life. A lot of times people will put a glass ceiling above your head and you’ve got to work hard and believe in yourself and you’ll accomplish it.”

Read Aaron’s first story here