LARAMIE – Though he’s been surrounded by family and friends in Colorado, Alijah Halliburton has admittedly spent the better part of the past three weeks stuck inside the depths of his own head.
Halliburton, the University of Wyoming’s first team All-Mountain West safety, was hopeful he might hear his name called on the third day of the 2020 NFL draft in late April. Following a breakout senior season where he led all defensive backs nationally with a staggering 130 tackles and was named defensive MVP of the Arizona Bowl, Halliburton felt he had a shot at being selected in the sixth or seventh rounds.
At the very least, he thought he would sign fairly quickly with a club as an undrafted free agent.
It’s been 18 days since the draft came and went, and Halliburton is still wondering what went wrong.
Were his stats not as meaningful as he thought? Was playing in the MW being held against him? Could he have done anything differently during the season and in the pre-draft process? And, perhaps most importantly: Was football still in the cards for him?
“It went the worst way it could possibly go for me,” Halliburton told WyoSports. “I’ve been questioning everything really, what to do with my life. Should I just move on?”
Halliburton is staying ready if that phone call from the NFL comes, and he isn’t expecting to be given a job. All he wants, he said, is a chance. And the fact he hasn’t gotten one so far is what hurts the most.
“I can’t keep waiting for an opportunity,” he said. “What’s a tough pill to really swallow is not getting a shot … I’ve seen so much over the last four years.”
Halliburton, of course, bided his time behind star safeties Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps, both of whom are currently in the NFL, his first few years in Laramie. Halliburton saw extended action due to injuries as a junior but flourished in a way few saw coming during his final campaign.
Along with his 130 tackles, Halliburton grabbed two interceptions, had two sacks and totaled 11 tackles for loss. If it hadn’t been for his All-American linebacker running mate up the middle, Logan Wilson, Halliburton would have been the talk of a stingy Cowboys defense that ranked 11th in points per game allowed nationally (17.8).
Halliburton flew under the radar, however, and was not invited to the NFL combine or any postseason all-star games. He participated at UW’s Pro Day and had been in touch with teams that told him they were interested in taking him late or as a priority free agent. He compared his gaudy statistics with players at the same position that were either drafted or signed after the draft; his were as good, if not better, than nearly all of them.
For instance, Mississippi State safety Brian Cole, drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the seventh round, had 76 total tackles over his two seasons in Starkville. Marshall safety Chris Jackson, a seventh round selection by the Tennessee Titans, totaled 189 tackles over four seasons.
What was wrong with Halliburton, then? He still doesn’t have an answer that makes total sense.
“I’ve been going in my mind, (and) I keep asking the same question: ‘What could I have done better?’ Halliburton said. “And every time I think of that thought, I think I did everything … I don’t regret anything. I did everything that I could and can.”
The current pandemic is likely working against Halliburton’s chances as well. While teams normally would have invited players to participate in rookie minicamps, that has not happened, as the those camps haven’t taken place. When and if they do take place, they will likely be shorter than normal, which Halliburton feels hurts his odds: the more teams can see what he can do on the field, the better they would feel about offering him some sort of contract.
“I feel like teams need to see me, how big I am, how fast I am, how I move,” Halliburton said. “I know a lot of teams have not seen me play. If they had, I wouldn’t be in that position.”
Much like his former UW teammate Cooper Rothe, Halliburton is doing his best to take things a day at a time.
Given the disappointment of the past few weeks, however, Halliburton has made serious changes. He moved back to Laramie on Monday and is training with former UW linebacker Cassh Maluia, who the New England Patriots selected in the sixth round. Halliburton said he had to get out of Colorado for a bit. He needed space and time for himself. People back home had questions Halliburton, quite frankly, had no answers to.
So Halliburton shaved his beard, packed his bags and headed back to the Equality State to clear his mind. He’s not on his phone as much as he used to be, and he isn’t playing video games as frequently. In many ways, this experience has changed him.
“I had to get a fresh start overall. I had to get away from girlfriend, family,” Halliburton said. “I didn’t want to be a burden, (have people) take pity.”
While he is staying ready, Halliburton also is being realistic; he has set a two- or three-month timeline for himself to evaluate the future. After that time passes, he plans on scaling back his workouts, which currently consist mostly of footwork and skill drills, and looking toward what comes next. He is a few classes away from finishing his degree from UW and said being a firefighter is one of his potential career options should football not work out.
Nevertheless, Halliburton is still holding out hope for the future he so badly wants. He’s been trapped in his own thoughts, but he isn’t down and out quite yet. He’s never been one to give up that easily. He is, however, preparing for the possibility of post-football life. Would it be disappointing to not get his chance? Of course. But sometimes things are out of your control, and you have to make the best of the hand you’re dealt.
“If I don’t get a call, that’s fine. I know that I did everything in my power to be ready, to be the best,” Halliburton said. “If I can’t make it this way, I have to make it some way else. I’ve been thinking of future outcomes.”