Robert Landers has spent a lifetime overcoming the odds.
With the NFL draft scheduled for next month and his chances to showcase his skills thwarted, the former Ohio State defensive tackle can draw on his past to maintain his faith in himself.
When Landers was 10, his father was shot to death in a homicide that remains unsolved. As a football player, Landers excelled despite being much shorter he claims he’s 6 feet than the prototypical lineman.
Landers hoped to be invited to the NFL combine in February but wasn’t. He has been training for Ohio State’s pro day on Wednesday, but that has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. His engaging personality would no doubt impress NFL teams in interviews, but visits between players and pro personnel aren’t happening, either.
It’s not an easy time for players like him who are running out of time and ways to make an impression on NFL teams.
"It’s kind of put a roadblock in my path for the NFL draft," Landers said Saturday. "Right now, I’m doing what I can to keep working and grinding and taking it day by day, to keep counting my blessings."
Landers’ original plan was to train with OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and at his old high school, Huber Heights Wayne, and with the school’s track coach, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Then Ohio State closed its athletic facilities, as did Wayne. Landers, who’s living in Springfield with his mother and 9-month-old daughter, Jordyn, then went to a local gym. That also has been shut down.
"My resources are becoming more and more limited, but I’m trying to find a way to still get my work in," Landers said.
It isn’t easy. He doesn’t have weights in his home. It’s the first time since before high school that he has been unable to lift. So Landers is doing what he can in his backyard.
"I’m still working on muscle endurance," he said. "The way I’ve transferred my workouts is high volume, high reps, high sets. It might be pushups or types of pullups.
"You can’t really simulate a game or a practice or a pro day when you’re in the house, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do."
Landers has been open about his challenges with mental health, and these are difficult times for everyone, let alone someone who needs to audition for a professional career he’s long dreamed of.
"I’m doing pretty good," he said. "I’ve had my days of being stressed, but I give myself 24 hours to be stressed out and then I’ve got to keep pushing."
That’s what happened when he found out he wouldn’t get an invitation to the NFL combine, which looms larger now that OSU won’t hold its pro day.
"It’s very disappointing, but I try to stay on the positive side with it," he said. "Everything happens for a reason. I believe in that. Why? I don’t know. I’m a spiritual person, so it’s not my place to ask that question."
Even with the benefit of a combine or pro day, Landers probably would be a late-round draft pick at best, though he certainly would get a chance in training camp if undrafted. His quickness and ability to use leverage made him effective in college.
Landers takes comfort that he has others on his side. He has close relationships with Johnson and Ohio State coach Ryan Day. He believes they will promote him with their many NFL contacts. Landers hopes former teammates now in the pros will do the same.
But football is not the only thing on his mind these days. Caring for his daughter is a full-time job.
"She’s 9 (months) going on 30 (years)," he said.
Jordyn took her first steps a few days ago.
"It’s time to gate up the house now," he said. "That’s the scary part."
Landers earned a degree in criminology, so if football doesn’t work out, he has that to fall back on. His first choice for a post-playing career is coaching.
"My mom always said at some point the game is going to come to an end," Landers said. "You can’t be defining your whole life as a football player. She always pushed to make sure you’ve got a plan B. If you don’t have a plan B, you don’t have a plan A."
Plan A remains an NFL career. Even with the obstacles in his path, Landers is determined to make it.
"I’ve always said if I can get a foot in the door, I can take care of the football part," he said. "I personally believe in myself and believe in my ability. I believe I can excel at the next level."