FARGO — When former North Dakota State defensive end Kyle Emanuel decided to retire from the NFL last April, he felt like he needed a break from the game.
“I think I was a little bit burnt out on football at the time," Emanuel said.
Emanuel walked away after four seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, playing outside linebacker. After a season away, he's decided to make a comeback.
“Everyone knows how hard of a decision it was for me to leave the game in the first place,” Emanuel said. “It was kind of a back-and-forth game I played with myself all year. I kind of describe it as a roller coaster, some days it was good and some days I missed it a lot.”
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Emanuel played in 63 games with the Chargers, including 33 starts. Prior to that, he played in 61 games, including 50 starts, during his NDSU career while playing from the 2011 through the 2014 seasons. He had 35 1/2 sacks in four seasons with the Bison.
“I made the decision to leave the game for a reason and I don’t necessarily regret that,” Emanuel said.
The 28-year-old Emanuel said his pro comeback initially started as a joke with his agent earlier this year. Emanuel asked if he decided to come out of retirement, would there be interest in his services?
“He thought there would be,” Emanuel said of his agent, Mike Swenson.
At the recent NFL Scouting Combine, Swenson let teams know that Emanuel was considering a return to the league.
“A couple teams expressed a little bit of interest,” Emanuel said. “That really got the ball rolling. That’s when I really started thinking about it seriously.”
Emanuel said he’s received interest from around five teams, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed the complexion of NFL free agency. The NFL banned travel for free agents to visit teams and teams can’t send personnel to visit free agents. That means he can’t work out for teams or take team physicals.
“At this point, it’s hard to tell how serious it is just because you can’t fly out to any of them,” Emanuel said of individual team interest. “I’m just waiting it out. It’s been kind of a different type of free agency to say the least. … The good news is it still sounds like there are some teams out there that are interested.”
Emanuel said he knows his window to play pro football is relatively short and that was another factor that played into his decision to come back.
“If I don’t do this now, it’s for sure over forever,” he said.
Emanuel added he feels better physically than he did a year ago, after taking one season off. He was part of the NBC North Dakota Broadcast team last fall, providing analysis for Bison football games.
“At this time last year, my body hurt way worse,” Emanuel said. “I was in a different place mentally, I just didn’t know if I could give a team 100%. When I made this decision to come back, I felt like I was ready to give a team my all. I feel better now than I did a year ago.”
With local workout facilities closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Emanuel said training has been a challenge.
“As much as I can, I’m doing bodyweight stuff and running,” Emanuel said. “Being in shape is the biggest thing for me. I was working out this whole past year. It’s not like I’m starting from zero. At least I have that going for me.”
For now, Emanuel said he’s staying patient and controlling what he can control.
“I’m very much in the mindset of if this was meant to be it will happen, and if not, it wasn’t meant to be,” Emanuel said. “I’m OK with that. I’m going to give it my shot and we’ll see what happens.”