Brent Qvale has taken a pragmatic approach to his NFL playing career.
So far, that plan has worked out quite nicely.
The former Williston High School standout recently finished his fifth season with the New York Jets and knows nothing is ever guaranteed in America’s most popular sport.
“There’s about 2,000 guys in the league and about 10,000 more trying to take your job,” Qvale said. “You have to be on the top of your game every day. I’ve tried to make the most of my opportunities.”
Undrafted out of Nebraska in 2014, despite being a starting left tackle for the Cornhuskers, the 6-foot-7, 315-pound Qvale truly earned his time on the Jets’ offensive line. Over the last five seasons, he’s played in 60 games with 14 starts. During the recently completed season, he played in all 16 games, including two starts.
“I think I’ve been able to get to the point where that (undrafted) tag is off me now and I’ve been able to solidify my role on the team and prove I belong,” Qvale said. “The average NFL career is about three years. I’m one of the older guys (27) now, but I feel like I’ve been able to continue to improve and establish myself as a valuable member of the team.”
Qvale approaches his high-profile profession the only way he knows how.
“I’ve tried to be consistent on and off the field,” he said. “Any team I’m on is not going to have to worry about me missing meetings or weightlifting things. You have to be a professional. It’s a great job, but you have to treat it like any job, really.”
Qvale enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent, meaning he’s eligible to sign with any team when the new league year begins in March.
It also means he’s uncertain of where he’ll play next season, although he’d welcome a return to New York.
“My wife and I love the area. I’ve enjoyed my time with the Jets,” he said. “Playing in New York is definitely unique. With the media and the fanbase, everything you do is scrutinized and amplified. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the success team-wise we wanted the last couple years, but there’s definitely an incredible amount of passion from the fans. It would be pretty cool to win in New York, no question about it.
“I think the future is bright.”
The Jets recently hired Adam Gase as their new head coach. Qvale and Gase have already had a short meet and greet. Gase had been the head coach of the Miami Dolphins the last three seasons before being fired earlier in January.
“He’s a very passionate coach, that’s for sure, and he has a really good offensive mind,” Qvale said of Gase. “Moving forward, I think coach Gase and Sam Darnold is going to be a marriage that works out really well.”
Darnold is viewed as the Jets' franchise quarterback after being selected No. 3 overall in the 2018 draft. Count Qvale as a believer in the young QB.
“He’s very level-headed for such a young guy. I can’t imagine being 20, 21 years old and coming into the NFL as a starting quarterback,” Qvale said. “He’s the same guy every day. He comes in and goes to work. As he continues to grow and mature and gets more playing time, I think the sky is the limit for Sam.”
There also is the financial aspect, which weighs heavily due to the uncertain and finite length of most NFL careers.
“It’s hard to make it to be a free agent. Best-case scenario, you’re probably only going to get one or two opportunities to be a free agent,” Qvale said. “A number of factors will go into it. We’ll make the best decision when that time comes.”
‘Ride it out’
Qvale recently returned from Italy where his brother Brian, the 2007 North Dakota Mr. Basketball winner, is playing professionally.
Brian is playing for Virtus Bologna of the Italian Serie A League, the top pro league in Italy.
“The last six years, I’ve only been able to see two of his games,” Brent said. “Between his career and mine, it’s a challenge, but it was really good to get back overseas and see him play. He’s doing well and it’s always nice to have an excuse to go to Italy.”
Brent was a star high school player in his own right for the Williston Coyotes, finishing as the Mr. Basketball runner-up in 2009.
“We were just talking about how we don’t see each other that often, but we both understand that we can’t do what we’re doing now for very long,” Brent said of his brother Brian. “We’re blessed to be doing what we’re doing. We gotta ride it out.”
Qvale and his wife live in Lincoln, Neb., in the offseason.
Training for next season, wherever that may be, starts soon. One of Qvale’s workout partners, fellow Cornhusker and former Minnesota Viking Jeremiah Sirles, recently re-signed with the Buffalo Bills.
“You can’t get much better facilities than the University of Nebraska. Coach (Scott) Frost has been really welcoming ever since he took over. They treat us really well. We try to stay out of the college guys’ stuff. I don’t miss getting screamed at lifting weights,” said Qvale, who earned a master’s degree in applied science from Nebraska. “Me and some other guys have been going back there the past five offseasons. It’s a great place to be able to go and get our work in.”
Qvale gets back to North Dakota a couple times per year. He’s held linemen camps in Williston during the summer and is hoping to be able to do so again this summer with area college coaches serving as instructors.
Being an NFL player from the Dakotas is the rarest of breed, but Qvale has bucked the trend in a big way.
“With social media today and platforms like Rivals and Huddle, if you’re good enough and your film is out there, coaches are going to find you,” he said. “Playing in the pros is amazing and I’m very thankful I’ve had this opportunity.
“It’s a grind but you just have to take it one step at a time. There’s four or five years in college and then if you’re talented enough and lucky enough and things fall into place, you just have to be ready to run with it.”