Steele earns NFL tryout with Saints

Former JMU linebacker Gage Steele runs through a drill during JMU's Pro Day on March 15 at Bridgeforth Stadium. Steele has received an invitation to try out with the New Orleans Saints at their rookie minicamp this weekend. Rich Cooley/Daily

Gage Steele is getting an opportunity of a lifetime.

The Warren County High School and James Madison University graduate is trying out with the New Orleans Saints today at the Saints’ rookie minicamp in Metairie, Louisiana.

Steele, who played at JMU for the last five seasons, found out on Wednesday that the Saints wanted him to try out for the team at the rookie minicamp. Former Warren County head football coach Tony Tallent, who is now the head coach at Rock Ridge High School, said he texted back and forth with Steele on Wednesday night and that Steele was excited for his opportunity.

“You gotta understand for the effort and the work that he’s put in to even be recognized, to have somebody want to look at you, is an amazing accomplishment,” Tallent said. “The kid’s won a national championship, been a part of turning a program around. It’s just amazing what he continues to do, and how he continues to amaze and work his way into good situations.”

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker took part in JMU’s Pro Day on March 15, where he worked out in front of approximately 27 NFL scouts.

The rookie minicamp is for three days, and the Saints plan to have their roster at 90 players once the weekend is over.

Steele, who could not be reached for comment, will have plenty of competition at the rookie minicamp. New Orleans drafted linebacker Alex Anzalone (6-foot-3, 241 pounds), who played at the University of Florida, with a third-round draft pick. The Saints also signed linebacker Sae Tautu (6-foot-3, 245 pounds), who played at Brigham Young University, as an undrafted free agent.

Tallent, who is a former JMU assistant football coach, said he believes Steele has a chance to make it to the NFL.

“I feel like you don’t get invited to the party if you don’t have anything to bring,” Tallent said. “Obviously, he has worked himself into a place where people feel he’s worthy of some consideration. You look at all the other people in college football who don’t get this opportunity that he’s got right now. And that’s a testament to his work ethic and the type of person that he is, and what the coaches at Madison have said about him. He’s worked and earned every snap that he’ll get down there there’s no question.”

Steele helped lead the Dukes to the Football Championship Subdivision National Championship this past season.

He had a team-best 103 tackles this past season with 2.5 sacks, one interception and five pass breakups, despite missing two games early in the season because of injury. Steele had at least 10 tackles in seven of the last 10 games.

Steele finished his career at JMU with 354 tackles, 10th all-time in school history.

Steele is one of five players from JMU’s National Championship team to be given a shot at the NFL.

Offensive lineman Matt Kirsch signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent on April 29. Cornerback Taylor Reynolds signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons on April 29.

Wide receiver and special teams standout Rashard Davis has rookie minicamp tryouts with both the New York Jets (this weekend) and the Chicago Bears (next weekend). Running back Khalid Abdullah took part in rookie minicamp with the San Francisco 49ers last week.

JMU head coach Mike Houston was not available for comment.

Last year the Saints had four players who were invited to the rookie minicamp for a tryout make the final roster, including wide receiver Jake Lampman, who played in six games.

It will be a busy week for Steele, whose wife, Jacy, is expecting their first child within the next week.

Tallent said that no matter what happens on the field, he’s proud of the person that Steele has become.

“Honestly, I’m more proud of the person and the man that he’s become than anything he’ll ever accomplish on the field,” Tallent said. “I’ve kept up with Gage personally, and I really feel like all his exploits on the field are absolutely phenomenal, but I know him to grow as a person and he’s become just a fine human being.

“Whatever happens on the field is a blessing to him, but just the person he is, is what I’m most proud of.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com