After months of organized team activities, mini-camps, and free agency, it’s finally camping time in the National Football League.
Training camps for all 32 teams will open this week.
For one Maui native, the wait was much longer than most.
Defensive lineman Mitchell Loewen was signed by the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2016 out of Arkansas.
But the Lahainaluna graduate spent all of last season on the injured reserve, recovering from two foot surgeries.
Loewen first suffered the injury midway through his senior year in 2015, and hasn’t been on the field since.
Now, the 6-foot-5 former tight end is finally healthy and ready to make a big statement in the Big Easy.
“Even the guys around me, like guys that are coming in, I tell them my story just meeting new guys on the team and they’re always like, that’s kind of unheard of,” Loewen told KHON2. “Usually if you’re a rookie and undrafted, they’ll just cut you and try to look for you once you heal up, but these guys have kept me around. I got to prove these guys right. They’ve been pulling for me in meetings, I can tell, so it’s time to shine right now.”
Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley will miss the upcoming season due to a heart condition, and Loewen says he’s ready to step in.
“It’s almost like the perfect storm,” Loewen said. “I mean, you can’t hope for something like that, but when something like that happens, you’ve got to take the opportunity and run with it.”
Three of Loewen’s Saints teammates are also from Hawaii: Max Unger, Manti Teo, and Hauoli Kikaha.
“All those guys I looked up to, because they’re all a little bit older than me and they’ve always been on the highlights,” Loewen said. “So going from playing in the same state to now we’re playing on the same team in the NFL, it’s huge and like you said, there’s kind of a camaraderie there.”
“If you guys ever want to talk smack about any of your teammates, you just do it in pidgin and no one knows right?” KHON2’s Rob DeMello joked.
“Haha, yeah, that’s for sure. For sure,” Loewen replied.
The Saints open training camp on Wednesday with the first practice set for Saturday.
Loewen is one of three Maui-natives on NFL rosters ahead of training camp. He joins Baldwin graduates, Cowboys Linebacker John Lotulelei and Cardinals Defensive Lineman Pasoni Tasini. Cover2 & Maui News reporter Rob Collias featured the three former MIL standouts recently.