WVU’s Rex Sunahara: ‘We’re OK’
Even in a normal year, the prospects for NFL undrafted free agent candidates can be dicey. For specialists, those are even more magnified – just six players at the three prime positions of placekicker, punter and long snapper were taken in this year’s NFL Draft. Add in the ever-shifting sands of the coronavirus pandemic, and you have a stew of uncertainty that has bubbled and simmered since the 2020 draft concluded and free agent negotiations began.
Caught up in that cauldron has been West Virginia’s Rex Sunahara, who figured to be a very early UDFA signee. His flawless performance as a two-year starter as WVU’s long snapper, coupled with league-level velocity on his snaps and the bonus of outstanding athleticism that allowed him to lead the punt team in tackles as a senior, figured to make him a prized commodity in the UDFA derby, which commences as the final round of the draft winds down.
Instead, a mix of circumstances has left him without a team to date.
“I was in heavy talks with some teams as the seventh round finished up and afterward,” said Sunahara, who has been waiting out the pandemic in his hometown of Bay Village, Ohio. “Teams weren’t able to see me at a Pro Day, but I was in two all-star games, and they had all of my game film. A lot of teams saw me at those games (the NFLPA Collegiate All-Star Game and the Hula Bowl). I sent a bunch of my film to teams, and several of them said they didn’t need to see anything more, like me running shuttles or other drills. They knew what I could do, and that I could run.”
Sill, that lack of an in-person Pro Day seemed to hurt Sunahara’s chances for an early signing. So too did a bit of a crowded long snapper field – one actually got drafted and three others have signed free agent deals. Some teams apparently want to see more from free agent prospects now, but the inability to travel or work out in front of team personnel has put a halt to that option.
That might lead to a lot of frustration for many, but the perpetually sunny Sunahara isn’t complaining or letting it get him down.
“It has been hard with this situation, but we’re OK,” he observed. “We’re still talking to some teams.”
Free agent signings have been lessened somewhat due to uncertainty, and Sunahara noted that the overall lack of Pro Days has led some teams to sign fewer players, or to use some of the slots typically used for special teamers on offensive and defensive options. He understands what has happened, and is continuing to work out for an opportunity that he is sure will come.
“We have a good-sized backyard, and we’ve marked snapping distances off,” he said of his home base, which is west of Cleveland. “I’m out there every day, and if it’s too wet I’ll go out in the driveway. I’ve been here for a couple of months, and I have a friend who has a weight room in his garage that has a good selection of equipment, so I have been able to keep up with working out.”
Like most of us, Sunahara has also had some additional time to devote to another pursuit while waiting for the pandemic to ease.
“I’ve been doing a lot of fishing,” he said of one of his activities. “My grandpa and I have been going out, and there are a lot of steelhead around here. A lot of people know about the spots we go, though. It’s not like it was with Colton McKivitz (Sunahara’s WVU teammate who is also an avid outdoorsman). He keeps all of his spots a secret, and I haven’t been able to crack those yet.”
Cracking the NFL, or getting that chance, remains his top priority, however.
“It’s going to be OK,” he reiterated. “It’s been a different time, and we’ll figure it all out.”