What it's like to make an NFL roster

HOUSTON -- Linebacker Justin Tuggle came in with the support of a father who spent 14 years in the NFL.

Running back Cierre Wood, with the desperation of someone who wasn't drafted and wanted to provide for his daughter.

Outside linebacker Willie Jefferson wanted to shed the weight of having nearly derailed his football career because of off-the-field mistakes.

And cornerback A.J. Bouye arrived knowing only he and his father believed he could make it.

Last Thursday all four undrafted rookies played in the final preseason game of the season. Wood convinced himself it was just another game, then excelled in front of a Cowboys team he thought would draft him.

"Hey, that's what they get," Wood said.

Tuggle and Jefferson made their final impressions. Bouye caught an interception, then got screamed at for celebrating in the middle of Dallas' star at midfield.

On cut day, you get a phone call if you're cut. They all went back to their hotel hoping their phones didn't ring.

Bouye couldn't sleep. He stayed up all night watching ESPN, hoping to catch highlights of his UCF Knights, who had blown out Akron earlier that night.

On Friday, Wood and Jefferson stared at their phones together. Tuggle tried to go through his regular morning routine.

By midday they arrived at Reliant Stadium. Jefferson avoided coaches, theorizing if they couldn't find him, they couldn't cut him. By the time that day's team meeting began, they knew they were on the 53-man roster.

Tuggle texted his father before practice.

"He really just couldn't believe it," Tuggle said. "It was a big day for me and it was a big day for him, too."

Bouye called his father.

"He yelled," Bouye said. "He was just yelling. I think he wanted to cry. He was the only one I felt that really believed in me. He knew from day one that I could make it."

Jefferson called his father, too, then a list of family members.

"A lot of hard work and dedication paid off," Jefferson said. "A lot of old things from my past fell off my shoulders."

Wood called his daughter Braelyn, who turns 2 on September 29. She didn't say much. He spoke to his mother who started to pray.

"That's exactly what I did at that point," Wood said. "Got on my knees and I just broke down myself."

Reality sets in soon.

"I'm proud I accomplished that, but this is just the beginning," Tuggle said.

All of their tryouts continue from here.