Updated July 16
The name Donte Rumph should ring a bell for football fans. If you can’t place it immediately, think tents. Rumph was the guy who famously camped outside the Falcons training facility after being cut in 2014. He was already popular from his time on the HBO reality series Hard Knocks, where he was given the nickname “Cupcake.”
Rumph may have moved away from the public eye, but he’s still hellbent on landing a spot on a NFL roster. Over the past three years, he’s had stints with multiple arena football and indoor football teams, including a stretch with the Philadelphia Soul.
Now, the 6-foot-4, 305-pound defensive lineman is in Philly — and thinks he deserves a shot with the Eagles.
Others think that too. “Hopefully he can get to the NFL, because that’s where he belongs,” said Jonathan Resignalo, GM and offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Havoc, the AAL team Rumph helped lead to a national championship this summer.
The making of a dream
Rumph’s football journey starts in a tiny town in South Carolina.
He was highly recruited coming out Calhoun County High School — where he was teammates with Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery — in Saint Matthews, S.C.
Saint Matthews has a population of about 2,000 people and, per Rumph, only one street light. So he didn’t have a chance to even realize how much he loved the game until he had a chance to travel. At age 15, a coach brought him to a Tennessee Volunteers game.
“I was so small-minded being in my town,” Rumph told Billy Penn. “Seeing 102,000 people in a stadium wearing orange and white and going down the Vol walk where everybody is just going crazy; I’ve never experienced anything like that. It opened my eyes. I was like, ‘Coach! I want this.’”
After having dozens of division one scholarship offers in high school, Rumph signed with Kentucky. As a three-year starter for the Wildcats, Rumph racked up 126 tackles and 7 sacks.
Rumph went undrafted in 2014, but played well a enough to earn a spot in the Falcons training camp as a free agent. That’s when he landed in the national spotlight, after being dubbed “Cupcake” on Hard Knocks by defensive line coach Brian Cox, who was ribbing the lineman about an elbow injury Cox didn’t think was very serious.
A year of ups and downs
It was during a Falcons Wounded Warriors event that Rumph met his wife and light of his life, Jess Love, a veteran who’d been medically discharged from the military.
But then later that season, Rumph was waived by the Falcons.
After being released, he tried to contact his agent multiple times to find out what the next step would be, he said, but his agent deserted him. Rumph blames this for causing him to miss out on opportunities with other teams — but, encouraged by his new life partner, decided not to give up so easily.
A few months later, he and Love decided to set up a tent and camp outside the Falcons training facility in what they called their “Tent of Faith.”
“We just wanted to show people you should fight for your passion,” Rumph explained, “and fight for what you believe in. Because you never know how close you are.”
Moving the tent chains
National media took notice, and articles about the campout began to spring up. But one week later, Rumph and Love’s Tent of Faith hit a roadblock.
“Six patrol cars rolled up,” Rumph recalled. “I told them what I was doing and why I was camping out — and they loved it. But, they said I still had to leave because they had a job to do.”
Rumph and Love packed their things and set up across the street from the facility. That also only lasted a week.
This time, a U.S. Marshal was the one who told Rumph and Love that they had to leave the area. He was less sympathetic than the cops who’d shooed him off previously. “Sometimes,” the marshal said, “no means no!”
As if inspired by that dispiriting missive, right then great news appeared.
“I was picking up the last thing to pack up the car, when I got a phone call from the Jets,” Rumph said. “I just dropped to my knees.”
Four hours later, Rumph was on a a flight to the Jets training facility in New Jersey. And after minicamp with the Jets, he was contacted by the New York Giants, and went to camp with them.
Becoming a journeyman
However, Rumph wasn’t able to secure a roster spot with either team. But he wasn’t about to give up so easily, so he looked into other leagues.
The first was Major League Football — a startup league that was supposed to bring competitive football to the spring season. Rumph was drafted 13th overall, but before camp started, a major investor backed out and the league didn’t have the funds to run their first season. So much for that avenue of play.
Rumph’s next shot came with the Spokane Empire of the IFL, where he helped them to a 2016 conference championship.
Things were looking up, but a year later, Rumph faced his toughest challenge.
He lost his grandmother — who was basically his mom, having taken custody of him right after he was born and raising him as her own.
“All I remember is him punching everything in sight,” said Love, explaining that she tried to convince her husband to use the loss as inspiration. “I told him to do everything your mom wanted to see you do.” Love added. “That’s when he went full throttle with the AAL.”
Another chance cut short
Rumph signed with the Atlanta Havoc, a pro team in the American Arena League. The team was perfect for him, he felt, because the Havoc played right next to the Falcons training facility.
After having an impressive first game — racking up four sacks in the first half — Rumph was contacted by Phil Bogel, then-general manager of the Philadelphia Soul.
We want you in Philly, Bogel told him. So after consulting with Love, who was open to anything that could further Rumph’s career, he decided to leave the Havoc for the Soul. The family picked up everything and moved to Philadelphia, three kids in tow.
In training camp, however, he was injured again.
“Everybody was stressing to make the team,” he said. He recalled a tricky move he pulled on an offensive lineman. “He went one way, I went the other way, and then he dove to my knee. It instantly blew up.”
The swelling in Rumph’s knee eventually caused his entire leg to swell. Despite the injury, Rumph played in his first three games with the Soul. Coaches eventually noticed that he was moving differently, however, so he was placed on injured reserve.
Due to the abundance of players on the Soul’s IR, he was then permanently cut.
“I didn’t understand,” said Rumph. “I still ran down the field and caught a receivers — as a 300 pound lineman!”
Talent good enough to fly in
Two weeks after his release from the Soul, Rumph got a call from his old team, the Atlanta Havoc. They offered him a deal too good to turn down.
“The Havoc told us that they would fly him every game,” Love remembered, “and he didn’t need to come to any practices.”
So for several months this spring, Rumph would fly into Atlanta on Saturday mornings to play games, and then fly home the following day. Usually players not practicing makes teammates, coaches and fans upset, but that didn’t happen with Rumph — because of his talent.
“When you’re the type of player that he is no one cares,” Havoc GM Resignalo said. “When a guy can get off a plane and give you production, guys generally dont care.”
Rumph proceeded to take the Havoc to the 2018 AAL Championship. While Resignalo would love to have him he back, he hopes Rumph gets a shot in the NFL. “I always tell him, if he isn’t playing at the next level he always has a home here.”
At age 28, Rumph realizes that the clock is ticking on his NFL career. Eventually, he said, he’d love to be a sports journalist at ESPN. But for now, he isn’t ready to give up.
“I’m playing football forever,” Rumph said jokingly.
And he truly believes the Eagles are a perfect fit.
“They’re the underdog team that proved they could win” he said. “And that’s exactly like me. But don’t worry — I won’t be camping out this time.”