Shawn Poindexter, who was a wide receiver on the University of Arizona’s football team, is nearly through the last backdoor. All that remains is to hear his name called sometime in the latter rounds of April’s NFL Draft, then it’s all fortune, fame and securing the bag.
“Just the way I’ve come up, I’ve always kind of worked through the backdoor. Football to me isn’t about the money, football to me isn’t about the fame,” Poindexter said. “Football to me is a platform to reach these kids. That’s what football means to me.”
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound wide out, who tied the Arizona record for touchdowns in a season with 11 this past year, is currently fighting to be drafted or picked up as a free agent. This last weekend, he performed in front of scouts from nearly every team in the NFL.
When it comes to the football career, and life, of Shawn Poindexter, nothing is taken through the front door. It requires taking a lot of backdoors and leaps of faith to truly understand.
Poindexter is the third of four boys born to Darnell Poindexter and Dana Mule. All four of the boys grew up playing multiple sports, changing with the seasons from basketball to flag football to baseball and soccer.
Before Poindexter was 10, Darnell started to see him separate himself from his brothers athletically.
“When he was probably about seven or eight, out of all four of my boys, I knew right then he was probably the most athletic,” Darnell said. “I could just tell.”
His two older brothers, Kyle, the oldest, and Justin, the second-oldest, were integral in pushing Poindexter to be better, often convincing the younger Poindexter to play up an age level to keep the brothers together.
“It had kind of an influence, because football is contagious among all of them,” Darnell said.
Poindexter especially credits Justin with helping him ultimately stick with football.
“He forced me to play football my freshman year, and I did,” the former UA wide receiver said. “I didn’t like it, I just kind of stood on the sidelines. I was one of those guys that kind of hid in the back; but we’d always compete.”
Through high school, Poindexter maintained his multi-sport approach, eventually playing three sports at Glendale’s Centennial High School: basketball, football and volleyball.
With basketball, his first love growing up, Poindexter averaged nearly 16 points and nine rebounds his senior year. He would have preferred playing the sport at the next level, but there was a slight problem of exposure.
“I would have loved to go [Division I] for basketball,” he said. “I knew that wasn’t gonna be the case, because we only won like four games a year.”
Eventually he would settle on signing with California Baptist University on a volleyball scholarship. At the time, the move made sense and didn’t seem like a “backdoor.” Poindexter was a coveted force around the net, and Cal Baptist was moving up to Division II next season. Things ended up going a much different direction, however. Poindexter doesn’t mince words when talking about the situation.
“They were No. 5 in the country so, I decided to go, it just didn’t end up working out,” he said. I wasn’t comfortable, so I came home.”
After coming back from Cal Baptist, Poindexter spent time working, holding jobs as a busboy and Cinnabon-maker before hitting the football field at Glendale Community College, the next backdoor.
“I decided to out there for spring ball. My brother and his best friend, Chris, were playing, so it made the transition easy,” Poindexter said. “I had guys on the team that I already knew. I just went out there and just played, honestly.”
Poindexter’s mother Dana thought being close to home helped put him at ease.
“So being at home, just playing football because he came back, went to GCC and played for the Gauchos, and he really has strong family values,” she said.
Although Poindexter had played two years of high school football, he described his understanding of the game at the time as rudimentary.
“I just kind of went, showed up, put my cleats on and played,” he said.
He played, alright. In his lone season at GCC, Poindexter caught 47 passes for 727 yards and seven touchdowns. Not a bad backdoor season of work, and good enough to appear on the radar of Division I programs like Marshall University, South Dakota State and Arizona.
According to Poindexter, his decision to come to Arizona was based on his wanting to stay on the West Coast and closer to home and on trusting in his faith in god. He tells the story of his plane ride home from West Virginia after visiting Marshall University.
“One of my coaches messaged me. He said, ‘Shawn, did you commit?’ I said no. He said, ‘that’s stupid.’ I said, ‘No that’s not what God asked of me.’ The day before signing day, Arizona calls, and I was like, ‘That’s perfect. That’s exactly what I asked for, you know?’ Even he was like, ‘Oh yeah, you were right, Shawn,” Poindexter said.
Still, staying close to home and playing at a D-I school didn’t immediately go according to plan. Poindexter was injured in his first year and played sparingly. Then, during the 2017-2018 season, frustration set in.
After feeling he was being misused at his position, Poindexter considered transferring. Then, Rich Rodriguez was fired at the end of the 2018 season, and Kevin Sumlin was brought on as head coach.
“I was about to get up and grad transfer and go somewhere else, because I wanted to be used and I wanted to play in the league,” Poindexter said. “Obviously, the coaching staff changed, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, just in the nick of time.’”
The change in staff was integral to Poindexter having the best season of his career, bringing down 42 receptions for 759 yards.
“They wanted to take advantage of my size and stretch the field with me,” Poindexter said.
It all should have ended with a bowl game, if not for a heart-breaking loss to in-state rival Arizona State the last game of the season.
“It’s tough, you never want to lose a game especially when you’re up by 20,” Poindexter said. “But I mean, I don’t have any regrets. I went out there and gave it everything I had.”
The jump in Poindexter’s production raised the interest of scouts at the next level. Last Friday, Poindexter, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, PJ Johnson and other Wildcats hopeful of extending their football careers put their talents on display in front of NFL team representatives.
Taylor Mazzone, UA’s outside wide receivers coach, Poindexter’s route running coach and his quarterback during drills on this day, talked about what scouts and coaches are looking for out of prospects during pro days.
“Scouts show up on one day to see measurements and see what they want to see for that position they are looking for,” Mazzone said. “They’ve seen the film, now it’s their time to see them in person.”
While emphasis is often put on singular exercises removed from football action, like the 40-yard dash and the bench press, Poindexter said he really shined during the route running exercise, where former All-Pro Dallas Cowboy great Miles Austin put him through his paces.
“If the ‘Niners did come get me and Miles Austin saw that I didn’t put any of the work he was recommending me to put in, it’s like, who am I to have just wasted a month and a half of my time to not [get] better?,” Poindexter said.
For his part, Mazzone doesn’t foresee Poindexter having a hard time maintaining the same work ethic — his inner drive to succeed is too great.
“I think when they get him in a room, one-on-one, behind closed doors, they’re gonna see what kind of character he is. Just very strong character,” he said.
With all the backdoors and leaps of faith to get to this point, it’s the NFL or bust, right? Maybe not. Poindexter insists he doesn’t have to be drafted to be successful.
He pointed to the recent success of Phillip Lindsay of the Denver Broncos, as Lindsay went undrafted out of the University of Colorado.
“He is calling the shots,” Poindexter said. “Went undrafted, decided to stay in Denver, and he’s most likely going to make more than a first round pick last year, because he’s not bound to a four-year contract with the option for a fifth.”
But what if that route doesn’t work, or what if he gets hurt? Or, what if it does work out, and a career filled with longevity and monetary success ensues?
According to Poindexter, all roads lead to one overarching route: starting his own non-profit. Regardless of his future in football, his goal is the same. He already has a name, No Wasted Steps, and a focus: at-risk teens.
“No wasted steps on the field, no wasted steps in life,” he said.
It’s those backdoors and leaps of faith that Poindexter believes will endear him not just to youth in the Tucson and Glendale communities, but in locations everywhere. It’s his journey that conveys authenticity.
“Who would I be if I had the front door to everything? I couldn’t relate to those kids,” Poindexter said. “I couldn’t give them any game. I couldn’t connect with them on that level.”
After taking in his son’s pro day, Darnell Poindexter sat about ten rows up on the west side bleachers of Arizona Stadium. Proud, he smiled and pointed to his son talking with a scout from some unidentified team.
“He’s gained a lot of wisdom and knowledge over the years through life experience,” Darnell said. “Of course, the experience that he has gone through has kept him humble. What you see is what you get, pretty much.”
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