Chris Rossetti was in the library at the University of Guelph, partially studying, his mind drifting as it always did to his favourite subject, his favourite dream: How was he going to get a job in professional sports?
He was playing quarterback for Guelph back in 2011, knowing that wasn’t going to take him to the next level. He was a huge high school star at St. Michael’s College. The game consumed him, as it consumes so many people.
“I was always playing Madden,” Rossetti, the young pro scout with the Miami Dolphins, said of the wildly popular video game. “I was always fascinated with players and personnel and rosters and playing NCAA video games. I’d input all the roster names, make my own teams, just spend a lot of time doing that. Playing Madden, changing rosters, simulating games. That was me.”
Near the end of Rosset- ti’s junior year at Guelph, at the annual Gryphons Football Gala Dinner, the guest speaker happened to be Thomas Dimitroff, the Guelph alumnus and Mike O’Shea’s old teammate. He is, and was back then, the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons.
Rossetti listened to Dimitroff speak, was enthralled by him, and when the night ended, he seized an opportunity.
“I saw him off to the side. I had about three minutes, I figured,” Rossetti said. “I went up, introduced myself, told him I was friends with Dylan (his nephew, then a receiver at Guelph). He was really easy to talk to and down to earth. I asked: How do I get into the business of scouting? He spoke highly of the CFL and his starting-out there. He told me to call his assistant and we could further discuss this.”
Rossetti had already worked as an intern for the Toronto Argonauts in media relations the summer before. He had emailed every team in the CFL looking for an internship. Eric Holmes, then with the Argos, was the only one to respond.
After his conversation with Dimitroff, he reached out to Jim Barker, who was then GM of the Argos. Rossetti told him he wanted to work in the scouting department.
“I was willing to work for free,” he said. “I was willing to do anything.
“I was in the library when Barker first called me. He was pretty clear about things. He said: ‘It’s not going to be easy, its going to be a lot of work, a lot of low, tough jobs, long hours, grunt work, you’re going to miss the cottage and I’m not going to pay you anything.’
“I said: ‘Let’s do it.’ I needed a way in. This was the way.”
It wasn’t a magical beginning. The Argos’ trailer office at Erindale College had just burned down. There was basically no front office to work in.
“I shared a desk in the locker room with (Argos longtime therapist) Danny Webb,” Rossetti said. “My first job was to go through all the DVDs that had been mailed to the team and see if there was anyone with any talent. I had no idea what I was doing, but I kept watching the film, and kept looking for things, and Jim was really good at spending time with me, helping me and teaching me.
“Jim told me the scouting part is easy. He said: ‘The thing you have, the memory, the recall, the details, that is going to set you apart.’ He was teaching me. (Former Argos coach) Chris Jones took the time to teach me. He didn’t have to do that. We’d watch players, I’d ask questions. The more you watch, the more you see things, the quicker you pick it up.”
The world opened up for Rossetti when the Argos sent him to NFL camps during his first training-camp period. It was at Argos camp, not just NFL camps, where NFL scouts would often appear. It was at college all-star games like the Senior Bowl and the EastWest Shrine Game where Ros- Dolphins scout setti started to make friends and contacts and get noticed. He was in his 20s, younger than most, but it wasn’t just his youth that stood out.
When he went to the Falcons camp, Dimitroff took really good care of him. He brought him to the front office. He explained their technology, how their database worked, explained how they operated. It was a real eye-opening experience for Rossetti, who was still focussed on the Argos.
The first NFL team to contact Rossetti, who had advanced from intern to unpaid scout to Argos scout, was the Houston Texans in 2014. He was 24 at the time. They brought him down for an interview — the Argos were aware of it — but he didn’t get the job.
Barker was aware enough of the rising Rossetti to promote him to director of player personnel, an unusual appointment considering Rossetti’s youth.
“I was disappointed I didn’t get the (Houston) job but Jim gave me a ton of responsibility after that,” Rossetti said. “I had to sign the Americans, deal with agents, went on the road, took part in American scouting, dealt with the neg list.”
The next team to call was the Kansas City Chiefs. They wanted Rossetti in for an interview. Small world, the NFL. When word somehow leaked that he was heading to K.C., the Miami Dolphins called. Not even a day later, the New York Jets called. Suddenly, Rossetti’s world was getting wonderful and complicated, all at once.
“I had an eight-hour interview with the Jets and they had a pro scout job open,” he said. “They told me they couldn’t offer it to me that day because the boss wasn’t there and had to meet him first. The next day, I flew to Miami.”
The Dolphins offered him an assistant’s job in the player personnel department. The job he thought he could get with the Jets was for a higher position, probably more money. The difficulty then: Loyalty to the Argos; a definite offer from the Dolphins; a possible offer of an even better position from the Jets.
“Jim wanted to keep me,” Rossetti said. “But I never really considered staying in Toronto. I’ve always been a football junkie, really passionate about the CFL, really passionate about the NFL, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”
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