GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No one calls Alstevis Squirewell by his full name. Just about everywhere he’s been, he goes by the nickname "Squirrel."
Except at Wal-Mart, where his employee nametag read Alstevis.
If all goes well, he’ll never have to answer to Alstevis again.
Squirewell doesn’t just have an unusual name; his path to the NFL has been just as atypical. A defensive end at Division II Newberry College in South Carolina, he’s in training camp with the Green Bay Packers as a fullback. While finishing his college degree in physical education last spring, he took a $10.50-an-hour job at Wal-Mart to help support his fiancée and two sons, Kameron, 4, and Alstevis Jr., 1.
“In high school, I played linebacker and fullback,” Squirewell said. “But my D-line coach [at Newberry] played linebacker with the Redskins, and I told him that I wanted to try to play football at the next level. He looked at me and said one word: fullback.”
At first, Squirewell was confused. But when that coach, Tommy Love Davis, explained his thinking, it began to make sense.
“I told him, ‘D-end is not likely for you,’” said Davis, who also spent time with the Giants and Saints. “I said, ‘I don’t want to break the bad news to you, but if you want a shot, you’re going to transition to fullback or put some weight on and be a D-tackle.’ We both thought it was better for him to lose the weight so he would be quicker and more agile.”
Squirewell found agents, Joel and Justin Turner, who specialized in fullbacks. Among the Turners' clients are Patrick DiMarco (Falcons), Mike Tolbert (Panthers) and Nikita Whitlock (Giants). Whitlock, like Squirewell, came from a defensive background. He played nose tackle and linebacker at Wake Forest.
Still, it wasn’t easy to get Squirewell on the NFL’s radar even after he dropped 25 pounds from his college playing weight and got down to 265. He wasn’t invited to the combine, and his pro day was sparsely attended because the University of Georgia held its event the same day.
“Trying to convince someone to take a chance on a guy is tough when there’s no film of him doing it,” Joel Turner said.
The best he could do was a tryout at the Packers’ rookie minicamp that led to his eventual signing, and he’s been a fullback ever since. It hasn’t been an easy transition, but Squirewell has started to look more natural on offense of late. During a recent practice, he caught a pass out of the backfield, turned it upfield and found the end zone.
“He’s come a long way from when he first started … he didn’t have any idea about being back there in the backfield,” Packers running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “He makes way less mistakes in terms of his assignment. He’s still working on the awareness part of it, but from a physical tool standpoint, I think that once we get him -- there’s no timeline on when that’s going to happen -- but when he’s totally comfortable and confident in what he’s doing, I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be able to help us.”
Squirewell isn’t void of experience with the ball in his hands. In addition to playing fullback in high school, his most memorable college play came when he intercepted a pass against Tusculum College last fall and returned it for a touchdown. What made the play even more remarkable was that he broke his hand earlier in the game and returned with a club cast.
“If you go look at it, you’ll see me with a big old club,” he said. “The first play of the game I got a sack and forced fumble and I recovered it. The tackle landed on it and broke it. They took me out, and I came back late in the second half and the very first play -- pick-six with the club.”
He’s a long shot to make the roster even though the Packers have moved on from veteran fullback John Kuhn; Aaron Ripkowski is Kuhn’s likely successor. But Squirewell could be an attractive option for other teams or possibly to stick on the practice squad.
But he knows one thing: He has no plans to go back to working in the lawn and garden department at Wal-Mart.
“Maybe to visit,” he said. “But I like this job right here better.”