Gilbert Pena is used to being the oldest guy on the football field.
And for good reason.
Before his senior year at Saunders High School in Younkers, N.Y., the Green Bay Packers’ defensive lineman’s life changed forever when his mother, Susan Cruz, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
It was at that moment Pena dropped everything. Once the graduation caps had fallen, he slid the role of maintaining the household instead of pursuing his dream of playing football at the next level.
Following the New York/New Jersey High School All-Star Game, Pena's playing career appeared to be over by all accounts as he picked up odd jobs working at a senior living center, then as a prep cook and finally at a heating and plumbing supply warehouse.
It wasn’t until a friend brought forth the idea of playing football at a local junior college, Brooklyn's ASA College, whose program was in its infancy. His athleticism earned him a scholarship that would soon turned into another at Ole Miss in 2011 and before signing with the Packers shortly after the 2013 draft.
We’ll take a deeper look into Pena’s path to the NFL in a profile later this week with the 26-year-old defensive lineman vying to become one of the oldest rookies to break into the league in less than a month during training camp.
At the moment, Pena is the seventh oldest rookie or first-year player without any NFL experience vying to earn a roster spot. Given his late start, it's nothing he isn't accustom to.
“I think being a 26-year-old rookie gives me an edge because I’m a lot more mature than the average guy coming out of high school,” said Pena, who'll turn 27 in November.
“I’ve done the business side of things already. I’ve completed my journey with college. I’m fully focused on making this my home, trying to make the team and do what I have to do to compete.”
The oldest rookie or first-year player without any NFL experience trying to make an NFL roster is Arizona’s Robert Gill, a 29-year-old wide receiver who toiled in the Arena Football League for a few years before landing with the Cardinals and becoming a YouTube sensation for a video in which he runs a treadmill at 25 miles per hour.
Behind Gill is 28-year-old kicker Havard Rugland, a viral phenomenon from Norway whose series of kicking-trick videos earned him the moniker “Kickalicious” and a roster spot with the Detroit Lions.
Oldest rookies or first-year players without NFL experience (as of July 3, 2013).
1. Robert Gill, Arizona wide receiver (29 years, 4 months, 6 days)
2. Havard Rugland, Detroit kicker (28 years, 8 months, 26 days)
3. Brian Banks, Atlanta linebacker (27 years, 11 months, 9 days)
4. Nic Purcell, Philadelphia tackle (27 years, 9 months, 13 days)
5. Caesar Rayford, Indianapolis linebacker (27 years, 3 months, 29 days)
6. Roderick Williams, Minnesota cornerback (27 years, 1 month, 6 days)
7. Gilbert Pena, Green Bay defensive lineman (26 years, 7 months, 18 days)
8. Kyle Auffray, Arizona tight end (26 years, 6 months, 6 days)
9. Joe Unga, Baltimore tackle (26 years, 5 months, 28 days)
10. Kent Richardson, Cleveland defensive back (26 years, 2 months, 12 days)