LAKE FOREST – Jack Sanborn was in frequent communication with the Bears during the final day of the NFL draft. The longer his name remained on the board, the more realistic his chances of actually landing with his hometown team.
“They were like, ‘If you go undrafted, we want you here,’” Sanborn said. “I knew they wanted me.”
Sanborn grew up in Deer Park and played high school ball at Lake Zurich. He helped Lake Zurich finish as IHSA Class 7A state runner-up in 2017, losing in overtime to Batavia. He played college football at Wisconsin, where he was a three-year starter.
The 21-year-old fell out of the draft and signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent. His cellphone was, not surprisingly, blowing up after the news broke. He’s a linebacker for the Chicago Bears, something countless kids across the area dream about.
“It’s something that you obviously look forward to, and it’s your goal when you play football at a young age and growing up, I mean, yeah, Chicago’s special,” Sanborn said. “It’s where I grew up. I grew up watching a lot of the players here, a lot of the teams here. I never really thought I would be a part of it, but to be a part of it now is a huge honor.”
Sanborn participated in rookie minicamp this past weekend at Halas Hall, making the short 20-minute drive from his parents’ house each morning.
Several Bears at rookie minicamp grew up in the Chicago area. The Bears spent a sixth-round draft pick on Illinois center Doug Kramer, who went to Hinsdale Central. Purdue’s Jaylan Alexander, who went to Hoffman Estates, signed as an undrafted free agent but was already cut Monday morning. Southern Illinois receiver Landon Lenoir, who grew up in Crete, also was cut Monday.
Among the rookie tryouts over the weekend: Louisville running back Maurice Burkley is from Naperville and played at Metea Valley, Illinois State running back Timothy McCloyn played high school ball at Huntley, Syracuse defensive end Joshua Black went to Harlem, Liberty’s Elijah James went to Oswego East and Minnesota defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway went to Bolingbrook.
For the undrafted players in particular, it’s an uphill battle to make the team. But they’re coming in looking for any way to contribute.
“[It’s] knowing what you’re doing and then just working your butt off,” Sanborn said. “If you do those two things, then things will turn out like they’re supposed to.”
Sanborn going undrafted was a bit of a surprise. Some draft pundits saw him as a Day 3 pick. He was a team captain last season and a first-team All-Big Ten performer. It worked out in the Bears’ favor, however.
Sanborn is at a position where it’s conceivable he could stick around, although it’s more likely on the practice squad than the active roster. The Bears have two surefire starters at linebacker in Roquan Smith and Nicholas Morrow, but after those two there are some spots up for grabs. It should help that Sanborn brings experience on special teams, where he contributed in punt coverage.
“At Wisconsin, it’s a huge honor if you’re on the punt team,” Sanborn said. “It’s kind of the chosen unit there. I was fortunate enough to be on it for three years. ... I learned a lot of things from it.”
Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said all rookies come in wide-eyed during their first minicamp, but it’s especially true for the Chicago-area natives.
“I mean for those guys – just like me – Sanborn, he comes in and goes, ‘Wow,’ and everyone uses that word, ‘Wow,’” Williams said. “But they get to sit in the seats of Chicago Bears. When you grow up in a town where everyone goes, ‘Hey, the Chicago Bears,’ everyone in town loves the Chicago Bears. And you’re sitting in one of those seats, you get a seat at the table, and you don’t take it for granted. Believe me, they do not one bit.”
Monday’s transactions: The Bears signed six rookie tryout players Monday morning. They included Ball State linebacker Christian Albright, Charlotte safety Jon Alexander, Temple long snapper Antonio Ortiz, Northern Arizona defensive end Carson Taylor, Western Michigan safety A.J. Thomas and Ohio running back De’Montre Tuggle.
In a corresponding move, the Bears waived six players. Alexander and Lenoir were cut, as well as Miami safety Amari Carter, Utah State receiver/return specialist Savon Scarver, Ohio State running back Master Teague and two-year Bears practice squad linebacker Ledarius Mack.
Mack, the younger brother of Pro Bowl pass rusher Khalil Mack, appeared in three games last season for the Bears. He joined the team as an undrafted rookie in 2020.