Hortonville native signs with Bears
By Erik Buchinger
Hortonville native Joe Sommers’ dream of becoming a professional football player came true on April 30 when he signed a NFL contract with the Chicago Bears.
“An opportunity is all that I can ask for,” Sommers said. “Nothing is going to be given to me as an undrafted free agent. It’s still a tough road ahead, but I’m just excited about the opportunity to get my foot in the door.”
Sommers fielded calls from several teams on Day 3 of the NFL Draft, including the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.
“Going in, I knew there was a chance I would get drafted, but I told myself not to get my hopes up too high,” Sommers said. “I definitely was hoping I would be picked, but it didn’t hit me like a truck or anything that I didn’t get drafted.”
With the 250th overall pick in the seventh round, the Browns were on the clock and Sommers’ agent told him to get his phone ready.
“I got a call from an Ohio number right before their pick, so I thought for sure it was Cleveland calling to tell me they were going to draft me,” Sommers said. “But it just happened to be a Bears coach with an Ohio number.”
Sommers’ contract includes a $7,521 signing bonus with base salaries of $450,000 in 2016, $540,000 in 2017 and $630,000 in 2018.
Sommers watched the NFL Draft with his family in Hortonville and said he felt the community support from friends and family after signing his first NFL contract.
“After we got the call saying I’d be playing for the Bears, half of the town of Hortonville stopped in to say congratulations,” Sommers said. “We cooked out, had some drinks, and it was a good day.”
One person who reached out to Sommers was his former high school football coach, Andy Kolosso, who began his first year with Hortonville in 2010 for Sommers’ senior season.
“We’re so excited for him because we know how hard he worked to get there, and we couldn’t be happier,” Kolosso said.
Kolosso stepped down as the football team’s co-head coach in January but remains the school’s athletics and activities director. He said Sommers’ story will continue to have an impact on the Hortonville community.
“I think this is a great thing for the community, and it’s going to rub off on all the sports across the district here,” Kolosso said. “If you work hard enough and you’re a good kid, good things can happen to you.”
After graduating from Hortonville High School in 2011, Sommers originally attended UW-Milwaukee to play on the Panthers’ baseball team.
“I thought I wanted to be a baseball player,” Sommers said. “Two weeks into the semester, I was watching college football in my dorm, and I realized I screwed up right then and there. Football is something I’ve always had a huge passion for, and I didn’t really realize how passionate I was about it until it was gone.”
Sommers transferred to UW-Fox Valley for the spring semester before enrolling at UW Oshkosh to play football in fall 2012.
Sommers accumulated 87 catches for 1,384 yards and seven touchdowns with 28 starts as the UWO Titans’ tight end and made the All-WIAC team in each of his final three college seasons. He was selected to the NCAA Division III All-American Team as a senior.
After graduating from UWO in December, Sommers started working out at the NX Level Sports Performance facility in Waukesha where several NFL players including J.J. Watt train in the offseason.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Sommers elevated his status with a solid showing at the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Day on March 9 in Madison in front of 31 representatives from 26 NFL teams.
Among the players participating, Sommers recorded the highest vertical, second-most bench press reps and third-fastest 40-yard dash time.
“I think other people didn’t know I was going to do that well because I’m a small-school guy, but myself and people close to me knew I was capable of the numbers I put up,” Sommers said. “There’s a lot of jitters for a guy that’s not been on the big stage that often, but I was happy with my numbers.”
Sommers could fill a need at tight end for the Bears, who traded Martellus Bennett in the offseason. Chicago has Zach Miller pegged as the starter, but the Bears lack depth behind him.
Sommers said he is versatile enough to play tight end, fullback or H-back if the Bears need him to and will need to make an impact on special teams.
“I just love getting running full speed to make plays like that,” Sommers said. “I just need to come to work every day and show that I’m a high effort, high motor guy, and I’m not going to be a liability learning the playbook. I just need to take care of what I can control.”
Sommers arrived in Chicago on Sunday, May 8, where he will be until June 30 for rookie minicamp and organized team activities, followed by a break before training camp begins in late July.