From college walk-ons to NFL draft picks, Eden Prairie pair follow their pro dreams

The waiting and the worry of NFL Draft Day is all over for Eden Prairie natives Blake Cashman and Ryan Connelly. Both are now ready to hit the ground running in the NFL – not too bad for two college walk-ons.

“Ya know, I’ve come so far, it’s very important to me and I definitely don’t want to stop playing football anytime soon,” said Blake Cashman, a New York Jets fifth-round draft pick. “It’s my passion. It’s my love.”

“At one point, you’re working to get on the team and now that you’re on the team, I have a whole new set of goals, a whole new set of things I’d like to accomplish,” said Ryan Connelly, a New York Giants fifth-round pick.

They’re two high school teammates whose paths have almost run parallel.

“The odds of two guys from the same high school, both play linebacker, both walked on Big Ten schools,” said Connelly.

“Both go to combine and now they’re getting drafted, same round in the same city, it’s pretty cool,” Cashman.

Connelly and Cashman were each selected in the fifth round of the draft by a New York team. Connelly to the Giants, Cashman soon after to the Jets.

“I’m really excited for Ryan. I wanted to be one of the first people to text him and sure enough another ten minutes later, my name got called and everyone is talking about how crazy this is,” said Cashman. 

It’s the same destination, but don’t expect the pair to share too much in their new city. 

“I don’t know if they’re going to allow that, you know, bringing playbooks home,” said Cashman with a laugh.

“New city, new teammates, new everything, you just have a little something of home that’s a little comforting,” said Connelly.

The two are good friends, but being foes on the field has become the norm. 

“We’ve already established these four, five years, him being a Badger, me being a Gopher,” said Cashman.

“Oh, that’s the rivalry?” joked Connelly. “I didn’t know that’s what we were talking about.”

Now, they become in-city rivals as the Giants and Jets play twice this year.

“This is something to chirp each other about, how friends give each other a hard time,” said Cashman.

As the hard work continues another challenge is trying to avoid being starstruck in an NFL locker room.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a couple of those guys when I get there, but I keep trying to tell myself to not necessarily be a fan because you know I’m now one of them,” said Connelly.

The goal now is to be that type of role model to others, showing that the pros are possible.

“It’s cool to kind of look at the position we were in and to know that other people know our story and it can be motivating for them to not give up and pursue that dream of theirs as well,” said Cashman.