James Winchester was having a fairly normal day with his family in southern Oklahoma. They were in the middle of the lake fishing for large-mouth bass when Winchester received a phone call. Winchester's day on the lake had been cut short. He had to get to Oklahoma City as soon as he could. The phone call was from the Philadelphia Eagles, offering him his first chance to play in the NFL.
"It's been pretty wild," Winchester said of the last few days. "I'm definitely thankful and it's a blessing. ... There are few places that I could imagine being, but that was pretty cool to be there and to be with my family when I got the call. I'm just very thankful and blessed to have an opportunity and I'm just making the most out of the chances that I get."
Winchester played long snapper at the University of Oklahoma from 2008 through 2011. Though he went undrafted, he saw plenty of his Sooner teammates, including some current Eagles, getting their chance to play at the next level. Winchester is very close friends with first-round pick Lane Johnson, and it is Johnson who actually helped Winchester get noticed by NFL coaches.
"I got to work out with Lane and this whole offseason I was hanging out with Lane. We were hunting and fishing on the side and hitting the weight room when we could and on the field and I was actually with him when the Eagles worked him out in his hometown in Groveton (Texas)," Winchester said. "I was with Lane at his home, we were hanging out with his family in East Texas and I was there when (offensive line coach Jeff) Stoutland came down. He was working Lane out and I just told him that I'd help him out and hold the bag for him, and I got to be the blocking dummy for him for a little while. He's a lot bigger than me and a lot stronger, so it was obvious who won that one, but then afterwards Coach Stoutland was awesome. He let me snap for him and I kind of got a look."
After hearing that he was headed to join Johnson in Philadelphia, Winchester tried to call his former teammate, but he couldn't get a hold of him. After making a few more calls, Winchester realized why he was having such a hard time trying to find the fourth-overall pick.
"I was actually talking to his aunt and uncle and they said, 'He's in Oklahoma City. His little boy is being born,' and I was like, 'No way. I probably wouldn't answer my phone either if that was the case,'" Winchester recalled. "I know he's tired and he's glad to get back to practice but I know it's also hard to leave his little boy and his wife, but he's excited and we're really happy for him."
Long snapper Jon Dorenbos suffered a concussion during the Eagles preseason opener against the New England Patriots last Friday night. Winchester was brought in to fill in for Dorenbos until he recovers, and the Washington, Okla. native knows that he has to make the most out of this opportunity in order to put his talents on display for both the Eagles and the rest of the NFL.
"Obviously with the Eagles, it's an amazing opportunity," Winchester said. "But in a preseason game you really are working out for 31 other teams, so it's a great opportunity to be on the field with a team in preseason. It's pretty awesome and it's a really incredible opportunity."
Winchester expects to play on Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers. Playing in his first-ever game in the NFL, Winchester is excited to get out on the field, but he also knows that he has to put his emotions aside and focus on the task at hand.
"You try to keep your emotions and your excitement on the down-low as much as you can," Winchester said. "You focus and know that you have a job to do and know that you want to do that to the best of your ability and you want to be perfect and flawless. You know what you have to do for your job, but at the same time it's very exciting. ... It feels good, but Thursday night is going to be a big game. I'm excited to go out and be on the field and I can't wait."
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