Tom Brady's agent creates tryout camps for prospective pro players
By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer
SAN DIEGO — At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds and blessed with 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Jonathan Kanda looks like an NFL tight end.
However, Kanda knows he must prove that on the field under the watchful eye of NFL scouts. The athletic pass-catcher, who originally hails from the Congo, played college football at Marist.
"I’m just looking for one team to take a shot, take a chance on me and develop me to become a player that I know I can become," Kanda said.
He was one of 25 players invited to compete in a HUB football camp on a sun-splashed field at Southwestern College last month. Prospective players paid up to $750 to receive NFL-level coaching and a workout in front of NFL scouts.
On this particular Sunday, a scout from the San Francisco 49ers was on hand, and the session was videotaped for an NFC South team.
Don Yee, long-time agent for Tom Brady, founded HUB football in June 2020. Yee said HUB held its first event that October. Pro teams already use independent businesses such as Blesto and National as outside scouting services. But Yee created a more cost-efficient, one-stop shop to bridge the gap for street free agents looking to connect with pro teams.
HUB founder Don Yee greets a player at a recent camp. (Photo courtesy of HUB Football)
HUB vets the players and brings in only NFL-caliber players. Former NFL scout Mike Williams serves as the general manager of HUB, in charge of finding talent for the workouts.
"We’ve had many players just thank us for existing," Yee said. "Because there really is no other option, other than sitting at home, working out on your own and calling your agent every day to see if someone called. There’s no medium that existed before us that gave players a proactive option to connect with even one scout."
HUB employs a group of former coaches to put the players through individual and team drills. The group includes veteran quarterbacks coach Norm Chow, defensive line coach Dwaine Board and former NFL receiver Al-Zahir Hakim. Overall, the nearly dozen HUB coaches have more than 100 years of combined experience in college and pro football.
"I think it’s something that really has a chance," said Chow, who has coached at USC, UCLA and Utah, among other schools. "The USFL, XFL, NFL — all those leagues are looking for players. I coached in the XFL. [Current Broncos backup] Josh Johnson was my quarterback, and the talent in that league surprised me as well.
"They get a shot at it, like minor-league baseball. If half a dozen kids make it, it’s worth it."
HUB clients include former Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, the No. 1 overall selection in last month’s inaugural USFL Draft by the Michigan Panthers. Yee said more than 20% of the players selected by the USFL — 66 in all — were HUB clients, including Patterson, quarterback Josh Love (Pittsburgh Maulers), receiver Victor Bolden (Birmingham Stallions) and defensive lineman Kolin Hill (New Jersey Generals).
Usually, NFL teams fly in a handful of players for Tuesday workouts during the year, paying for air travel and putting them up overnight in a hotel. A team might occasionally sign a player from a workout to the active roster or to the practice squad.
Yee’s model creates a more efficient alternative that defrays the cost for NFL clubs and helps them develop a more robust watch list of NFL-caliber players that can potentially help them down the road. The players are responsible for travel costs, hotel stays, car rentals and camp fees.
Yee compared the camp process to a football version of "American Idol." And Yee said HUB is eyeing another big opportunity: organized football workouts for college players in the transfer portal to show what they can do in front of coaches looking to add players to their rosters.
"In researching this area, there’s not a lot of opportunity for a large group of players looking for a home in the portal to gather in one place, and for them to go through some drills," Yee said. "And there’s also not a place for the universities to go, to efficiently gather lots of data from one place.
"So, essentially, we want to create a product that matches up with the needs of the players and the schools in a cost-efficient way."
Former Michigan Wolverines QB Shea Patterson is one of 66 HUB clients to find a home in the USFL. (Photo courtesy of HUB Football)
Yee said he has received positive feedback from college coaches on the potential for a HUB workout for transfer portal prospects. He also sees it as the first step to his business potentially providing an opportunity for a small percentage of players talented enough to bypass college and go straight to the pros, as elite-level athletes can do in sports such as baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis and golf.
"It’s going to happen where you’ve got a talented high school football player like a quarterback that essentially bypasses college," Yee said. "He plays in HUB games during the summer. And by the time they leave high school, they’re already learning an NFL playbook from day one."
One of HUB’s success stories is offensive lineman Brandon Murphy. Originally a basketball player at Indiana State University, Murphy transferred to Memphis to try his hand at football, playing on the scout squad as a defensive lineman.
While Murphy didn’t see the field at Memphis, pro scouts were intrigued by his size (6-foot-6, 330 pounds) and light feet from playing basketball.
Murphy kicked around a couple NFL tryouts but didn’t stick. He eventually connected with HUB, which linked him with former NFL offensive line coach Eugene Chung.
After an intense, week-long training session with Chung, Murphy, 26, got a call for a tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars and was signed to that team’s 90-man roster.
"It was very beneficial because I feel like they started putting in the work with me immediately," Murphy said about HUB. "I feel like with my journey and what I’ve been through, I feel like it’s my time."
While Murphy found his opportunity, Kanda continues to train in Dallas, waiting for the right team to call.
"I’m taking a different approach this time," Kanda said. "I can’t control the outcome of this, so I’m just enjoying my time here. I’m just blessed to be out here and have fun with all the other guys."
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.