BY JERRY MILANI
Competition has always driven Latish Kinsler. From gaining a spot on the Immaculate Conception High School football team, to earning a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati, to enduring minicamp after minicamp toward his dream of playing in the National Football League, the Newark native parlayed his physical gifts, intelligence and unyielding hard work.
And while his efforts did not ultimately get him onto the NFL playing field, despite time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets, the lessons Kinsler has learned and the experience he has gained along the way have helped him get into what may be an even more competitive field — player representation.
Kinsler caught on with METRO, based in Bedminster, with plans to expand to other New Jersey locations. He brings to the young agency an important element that it had been lacking - the ability to get in front of players. Having forged many relationships with coaches and players during his time on the field, Kinsler went to work reaching out to his contacts and friends."I saw connecting with METRO as a great opportunity on both ends," said Kinsler. "Because I had played at Cincinnati and had been with a few NFL organizations, I met a lot of coaches and players who have ended up in positions with other schools and pro teams. Continuing to build on those relationships is the key to being successful in this business."
Kinsler's tireless work in maintaining those connections has helped him with the first step — finding the kinds of players that would benefit most from working with him and METRO. His experience as a former player who is also familiar with the business side of the game gives him a unique view on how both sides work.
"I had talked to a couple of potential agents, but when I met Latish, I knew right away that he was the guy," said Zach Miller, a sixth-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. "He was the first one that came across as really knowing what I was going through and what it would take for me to reach the NFL."
Part of that was a position change, which Kinsler and TEST Sports founder Brian Martin felt would be the best route for the speedy Miller, who had starred at quarterback at Division II University of Nebraska-Omaha but whose body type and skills were more fit for tight end. Many of METRO's clients train at Martinsville-based TEST in preparation for the Combine and Draft.
"We had thrown around the idea of converting to halfback or tight end — I was invited to play tight end in the Cactus Bowl, I did fairly decent there and that kind of got the ball rolling," added Miller.
Extensive work with TEST's trainers, including former Giants lineman Billy Ard, followed by an excellent showing at the NFL Combine in February led to his selection by the Jaguars in April.
Kinsler sees working with players like Miller and defensive back Brice McCain, a sixth-round pick of the Titans, as more than just negotiating contracts.
"What we want is for the player's only concern to be what he has to do on the field and in preparing to help his team win," explained Kinsler. "Off the field, we take care of that. Before the Draft, I'm talking to coaches, finding out which guys they like, whether they think they fit in the system. Then when a player is picked up, if I don't know the front office that well, I will visit them, meet the position coach, meet the people who can tell me if the player has a need, or if things aren't going well for some reason. This way, I can be on top of situations as they come about."
This level of dedication has helped Kinsler earn the trust of his players. They know that Kinsler is doing everything he can to help the player succeed.
"Latish has helped with everything," said Miller. "Getting with him and TEST is a very big part of where I am. I was prepared physically for the Combine and Pro Day, and I'm confident in Latish because he has been in the position that I have been in, he is someone to count on to give good advice."
NFL Draft day can be full of anguish, not just for top players looking to see where they go in the first round — the whole football world cringed at the uncomfortable sight of Brady Quinn awaiting his selection in the Draft Green Room in 2007. But for many of Kinsler's clients, the potential swings are even wilder, with projections of being selected anywhere from the second round to undrafted possible for many of them. Once the two-day, seven-round Draft is over, negotiations with clubs differ widely based on selection.
"For a draftee, there is a slotting system which awards bonuses based on where they are selected," explained Kinsler. "So for someone like [wide receiver] Kenny McKinley, he was a fifth round pick by Denver, and was expected to go higher. We look at the slot, the position, who was picked there last year and by what team."
The situation is quite a bit different for players who aren't drafted. Here is where Kinsler's prep work really pays off.
"Undrafted free agents are negotiated the night of the draft. Usually there are multiple teams that had said they had interest. Depending on who else they ended up drafting and what their needs were going into the draft, I'll contact the ones that expressed interest and would be the best fit."
Sometimes it works out very well, like Miller and McCain, who were drafted and earned spots on the 53-man active rosters. The next level of success is finding a home for a player on a practice squad, one step away from getting on the field on Sunday, as is the case with Mike Desormeaux of the Jaguars and Khalif Mitchell of the 49ers, both METRO clients.
Then there are the cases in which all the hard work still doesn't pay off for the player. These are the toughest cases of all for Kinsler, whose attachment goes beyond player-client. Undrafted free agent Frantz Joseph, a linebacker out of Florida Atlantic, was first signed by Oakland, which seemed to be the right fit. Unexpectedly, Kinsler's phone rang with news that the Raiders had cut Joseph after minicamp workouts, sending Kinsler on jaunts to New Orleans and Baltimore to set up tryouts as well as show the extra support for Joseph that his commitment demands.
"Frantz was working out at FAU when Baltimore offered the tryout," remembered Kinsler. "I had to track him down through the SID, who found him on campus."
Just today, two more of Kinsler's clients, cornerbacks Brandon Anderson and former Rutgers standout Derrick Roberson, were picked up by Tampa Bay after having been released by Cleveland and Minnesota, respectively, with Kinsler's behind-the-scenes work integral in making that happen.
That kind of extra effort will help spread the word about Kinsler and METRO, but the challenges of success in the field are always present.
"The biggest challenge is earning legitimacy," he explained. "It's always a battle of 'Who do you have?' We are moving forward there, and as we have more guys, the word will spread about how we can give the personal attention they get and the ability to do the best for them."