Crystal Lake South graduate Dennis Gardeck experienced the craziness and anxiety of the final day of the 2018 NFL Draft, then used being undrafted to his advantage.
Gardeck, who played his final college season for NCAA Division II Sioux Falls (South Dakota), agreed to a free-agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals shortly after the completion of the draft Saturday evening. He had been working out with Cardinals physical therapist Brett Fischer in the Phoenix area.
“The day has been kind of a whirlwind of phone calls,” Gardeck said. “[In] the sixth round I had spoken to my agent and decided this was the best route. I’ve been working down there with Brett.”
Gardeck seemed far from an NFL prospect when he left South as a 200-pound linebacker. But he built himself up at D-II West Virginia State for three seasons before he transferred to Sioux Falls. Since he was redshirted as a freshman while recovering from an injury, Gardeck had graduated from West Virginia State with a year of eligibility remaining.
Nick Benedetto, a South graduate and former West Virginia State assistant, was instrumental in recruiting Gardeck to both schools. When Benedetto left for Sioux Falls as the Cougars’ defensive coordinator, Gardeck followed him there for a graduate season.
Gardeck (6-foot, 240 pounds) led the Cougars in tackles last season with 75, 21 of which went for losses, and he had 14 sacks, two forced fumbles and one safety.
Those numbers were good, but his Pro Day workout at South Dakota, where all 32 NFL teams saw South Dakota tight end Dallas Goedert and other prospects work out, got Gardeck more attention. Goedert was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in Round 2 with the 49th overall pick.
“We were kind of putting all our eggs in that basket,” Gardeck said. “I had to ball out at my Pro Day to even get a look. I was able to kind of help make a name for myself there. They saw my 40 time and were impressed with how fast I was at my weight. It doesn’t hurt that I put up 31 reps (at 225 pounds on the bench press).”
Ian Gardeck, a pitcher with the San Francisco Giants’ organization recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, was working out at the Brett Fischer Institute, so he invited his brother there to prepare for workouts before the draft.
Dennis Gardeck felt a connection with Fischer and the Cardinals. He expected to sign his contract Saturday night.
Gardeck thanked his family, particularly Ian, for their support to get him to this point.
“I just had to have that belief in myself,” Gardeck said. “My brother was supporting me before I thought this was possible. I had to have faith that somehow, some way, things would work out.”