Undersized Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake was the epitome of relentlessness.
Wake had to overcome several obstacles before playing in the National Football League.
The New York Giants released him when he tried to make their roster as an undrafted free agent in 2005.
Wake, who was still known as “Derek,” lived with his parents for a while before working as a home loans broker and personal trainer during his two-year hiatus from the pro gridiron.
Wake gradually morphed into “Cameron Wake” during this critical transition period of his life.
All of a sudden, fate intervened. Wake not only made the CFL’s BC Lions roster, but he also dominated Canadian Football for two seasons.
Wake eventually became a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Miami Dolphins.
Cameron Wake is living proof you can make your dreams come true if you put in the work day in and day out.
Derek Cameron Wake was born to parents Alvin and Darlene in Beltsville, MD on January 30, 1982.
His father and mother met when the government employed them in the information technology sector.
Wake attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, MD.
Wake, who his peers still called “Derek,” played basketball for legendary DeMatha Stags coach Morgan Wootten, per Sports Illustrated’s Ben Reiter.
Unfortunately, Wake couldn’t make strides in his high school basketball career – the presence of future NBA stars Keith Bogans and Joseph Forte buried him on the JV roster.
Wootten eventually released Wake during his junior season.
Wake strutted his wares on the gridiron for the Stages instead. He earned Defensive Player of the Year honors from The Washington Post as a senior in 1999.
Cameron Wake wound up playing for the Penn State Nittany Lions – one of the most renowned college football programs in the nation.
College Days With The Penn State Nittany Lions
Cameron Wake was a sociology major at Penn State University.
The player then known as “Derek Wake” played as a defensive end and linebacker for legendary Penn State Nittany Lions head football coach Joe Paterno.
The Nittany Lions lost three linebackers following the 1999 NCAA season. Wake provided the depth Paterno needed – the former took the field in all twelve games as a true freshman in 2000.
Wake had 10 total tackles, two tackles for a loss, one pass deflection, and one blocked field goal in his first season at Happy Valley.
Despite Wake’s presence in the Nittany Lions’ defense, they stumbled to a 5-7 win-loss record in 2000. It was Penn State’s worst showing since the 1988 NCAA campaign.
Wake sustained a brutal knee injury in the season opener against the Miami Hurricanes in 2001. Medical reports revealed he tore his left knee’s medial collateral ligament (MCL) and medial capsule, per OnwardState.com’s David Abruzzese.
Wake had to sit out the entire 2001 NCAA campaign. It wasn’t the only time he had to deal with adversity in his gridiron career.
His fierce determination to succeed eventually prevailed each time.
Without Wake, Penn State duplicated its five-win season from the previous year. The Nittany Lions didn’t receive a bowl invite for the second consecutive season.
Wake earned medical redshirt status following his season-ending injury. That meant he’d suit up for the Nittany Lions as a redshirt sophomore in the 2002 NCAA season.
As a weak side linebacker, Wake had 122 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, one interception, and five blocked kicks over the next two seasons.
Wake’s return reinvigorated the Nittany Lions. They won nine games in 2002.
Unfortunately, 10th-ranked Penn State lost to the 19th-ranked Auburn Tigers in the 2003 Capital One Bowl, 13-9.
The Nittany Lions took a major step backward in 2003. They won just three games that year and didn’t play in a bowl game.
Cameron Wake finished his college football career with 191 total tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 24 tackles for loss.
Wake took the unconventional route before rising to prominence in the National Football League.
He had to overcome several obstacles before he saw his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL come to fruition.
Pro Football Career
Cameron Wake had a rough start to his pro football career.
He participated in Penn State’s Pro Day and ran 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash several weeks before the 2005 NFL Draft.
The New York Giants signed him in April 2005 but waived him two months later.
During Wake’s short-lived stint with Big Blue, Giants players nicknamed him “Mini-Strahan” because he also had a prominent gap in his two front teeth.
Wake remained undaunted – he flew around the country trying out for the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, and Oakland Raiders after his release from New York.
Alas, none of them showed any keen interest in him. No NFL team signed Wake for the next two years. He entered a dark period of his pro football career.
The Giants paid Wake a $7,000 reporting fee when they signed him. That amount shrank to just three digits in the spring of 2006.
Wake, who was living with his parents at the time, saw a job ad for a home loans broker at Castle Point Mortgage in Elkridge, MD. The company eventually hired him.
Wake displayed his exemplary work ethic away from the football field: he worked 10-hour days for an annual salary of $24,000 including commission.
“He definitely wasn’t going to blow you away with his sales skills,” his manager Collin Meerholz told Reiter in the fall of 2014. “But he’d outwork you.”
Wake regularly pumped iron at the gym in the morning for two hours before reporting for work. He also consumed tuna and baked potatoes between sales calls.
Several of Wake’s co-workers were intrigued with his athleticism. One of them, a former high school track star, even challenged him to a 40-yard dash in the parking lot.
Wake accepted the challenge. With twenty-five spectators on hand, Wake already took three steps before the other guy took his first. Wake eventually crossed the finish line ten yards ahead of his challenger.
It was around this time that Wake’s mother Darlene convinced him to quit his job so he could set his sights squarely on the National Football League, per ESPN’s James Walker.
Wake resigned from Castle Point Mortgage less than a year after the company hired him. At that point, he thought his football dreams were over.
Wake eventually became a personal trainer at Bally Total Fitness Gym – the same gym where he regularly spent hours training daily.
He trained with his co-workers during their breaks and trained for another hour after he closed the gym at 10 p.m.
The first step toward the impossible is…. Belief pic.twitter.com/iFpWIJkPl9
— Mr. Wake (@Kold91) September 13, 2019
It was at Bally’s Total Fitness Gym where his co-workers began calling him “Cameron” after he began wearing a name tag that showed his middle name. Wake’s new identity stuck from there on out.
“It sounds corny,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2014. “But it represented a new chapter, a fresh start.”
Wake also watched NFL games at work to inspire him to play at football’s highest level, per OnwardState.com.
Cameron Wake’s relentless work ethic eventually paid enormous dividends. Once he got his opportunity to play professional football, he grabbed it for all its worth.
All of a sudden, the Canadian Football League (CFL) came calling.
Wake told ESPN some six years later that he had never watched a single CFL game before he got his shot at redemption. He knew nothing about the Canadian game.
Wake’s agent informed him the CFL’s BC Lions held tryouts at Howard University in Washington D.C. in the spring of 2007. The campus was a mere 25-minute drive from Wake’s residence.
When Wake turned up, none of the athlete’s at the university’s track were there to try out for the CFL. It turned out the Lions held their tryout at Hampton University.
Wake made his way to Hampton, VA and promptly impressed the Lions with his athleticism.
NFL scouts considered Wake a reject back then.
“The NFL said he was a reject,” BC Lions head coach Wally Buono revealed to The Palm Beach Post’s Hal Habib in March 2019.”When we were scouting him, recruiting him, we talked to NFL scouts and they said he was a reject. They wanted nothing to do with him.”
Buono also said those NFL scouts thought the 6’2″, 250-lb. Wake was an undersized defensive end – the position he thrived in. They also thought Wake was too big to become a linebacker.
Wake told Sports Illustrated that the conundrum regarding his actual position at the NFL level confused him to no end.
The birthplace of Cameron Wake… pic.twitter.com/e9OovVln5Q
— Mr. Wake (@Kold91) April 10, 2016
Buono realized Wake had the instincts of a defensive end – not those of a linebacker.
All it took was one play during BC Lions rookie camp for Buono to realize that Wake was indeed an undersized defensive end.
“The first time he rushed, I said to myself, ‘Whoa, this can’t be real,'” a mesmerized Buono told The Palm Beach Post some twelve years later.
The Lions gave Wake twenty-four hours to decide on the $48,000 contract they offered him. He accepted and promptly turned his life around.
When Wake’s father Alvin went to Canada to watch his son in action several weeks later, Buono boldly proclaimed to him that Cameron would play in the NFL in two years’ time.
Wally Buono wasn’t just a football coach – he was a clairvoyant. His prediction eventually came true.
Cameron Wake, the player whom NFL scouts labeled a reject, was out to prove his naysayers wrong. When he made the BC Lions roster, he never took the opportunity for granted.
While his Lions teammates played video games and partied the night away, he pored over flash cards of their defensive formations, per Reiter.
Wake lived like a hermit when he played in the Canadian Football League. All he had was a carry-on and roller bag – he didn’t have any luxuries such as computers, a mobile phone, and a TV set.
Wake settled for the bare minimum while renting out a basement apartment for $460 per month. He rode a $40 purple and black bike to practice daily.
Wake lived a frugal lifestyle because his CFL contract was worth just $48,000, per OnwardState.com.
On the gridiron, Wake fit the prototype CFL pass rusher perfectly – his 6’3″, 263-lb. frame suited the pace of Canadian football just fine.
Shaking off a three-year hiatus dating back to his days at Penn State, Cameron Wake led the CFL in sacks with 16.0 in 2007 and 23.0 in 2008.
Wake also earned a slew of CFL accolades, including:
- Jackie Parker Trophy (2007)
- CFL Most Outstanding Rookie (2007)
- Norm Fieldgate Trophy (2007 and 2008)
- CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player (2007 and 2008)
- CFL West Division All-Star (2007 and 2008)
- CFL All-Star (2007 and 2008)
His two-year stint in Canada changed the trajectory of his football career dramatically.
The NFL scouts who once spurned Wake suddenly fixed their radars on him – nine teams competed for his services prior to the 2009 NFL season.
Wake eventually signed a four-year, $5 million contract with the Miami Dolphins in January 2009. He finally made it to the National Football League weeks before he turned twenty-seven years old.
When Wake finally broke into the NFL ranks, he decided to wear No. 91. He explained to The Miami Herald he chose that number because he was the 91st guy on the 90-man roster NFL teams usually had prior to training camp.
Cameron Wake showed everyone he belonged in the NFL from the get-go. He had 2.0 sacks, four tackles for a loss, and a forced fumble in his first NFL start against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4.
Despite Wake’s emergence, the Dolphins continued miring in mediocrity. They won just seven games and missed the postseason for the seventh time in eight years.
It became a recurring trend in Wake’s ten-year stint in South Florida. The Dolphins averaged seven games per year and made the postseason just once during that time frame.
Wake was one of the few bright spots of a struggling Miami Dolphins franchise.
Wake continued his tear in 2010. He had 3.0 of his 14.0 sacks against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6. He added 57 tackles and three forced fumbles for good measure.
Wake’s exceptional play on defense earned him a four-year, $49 million contract extension with the Dolphins on May 6, 2012.
Oct 31, 2013: @MiamiDolphins defensive end Cameron Wake sacked @Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the end zone for a safety to give the Dolphins a 22-20 overtime win on Halloween. This game marked only the third time in @NFL history that a game in overtime ends on a safety. pic.twitter.com/UEnKH86T00
— Jack Eich (@jackeichsays) October 31, 2020
One of Wake’s most impressive plays was his game-winning overtime safety against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013.
With the game on the line, Cincinnati tried to move the sticks from its own eight-yard line. Wake blew by Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler and sacked quarterback Andy Dalton in the end zone. Those two defensive points in the extra session gave Miami the victory.
Six years into Wake’s NFL career, he had earned his keep: he resided in a six-bedroom Spanish-style mansion that had several fountains and six high-end cars in Southern Florida.
Through it all, Wake still wore a pair of rubber sandals the BC Lions gave him on his first day of CFL training camp several years earlier.
“The sandals are a simple reminder never to get complacent, always be humble – that I was a guy with a three-figure bank account, bought clothes from a thrift store,” Wake told Sports Illustrated in 2014.
Wake also stumbled upon the New York Giants’ 2005 rookie class on the Internet that year. To his astonishment, only fellow defensive end Justin Tuck was still on their roster after a decade.
The same players he competed against for a roster spot were long gone.
Not only was Wake still around, but he’d also earn five Pro Bowl nods, three Second-Team All-Pro selections and one First-Team All-Pro selection at the conclusion of his 11-year NFL career.
“I always say, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” he emphasized to Reiter during his sixth NFL season.
Although Wake had made it big in the National Football League, his ordeals on the field continued. He tore his ACL in the third quarter of Miami’s 36-7 blowout loss to the New England Patriots on October 30, 2015.
Wake had to sit out the remainder of the 2015 NFL campaign. It was a flashback from his earlier MCL injury with the Penn State Nittany Lions fourteen years earlier.
Wake not only returned, but he also earned a fifth Pro Bowl nod and second Second-Team All-Pro honors in 2016.
He signed a two-year, $18 million deal with $11 in guaranteed money with the Dolphins in February 2017.
After Wake played out his two-year deal with Miami, he signed a three-year, $23 million contract with the Tennessee Titans in March 2019. The deal included $10 million in guaranteed money.
— Mr. Wake (@Kold91) September 13, 2019
Wake suited up in just nine games for Tennessee and recorded three total tackles, 2.5 sacks, one pass defensed, and one forced fumble.
The Titans placed him on season-ending injured reserve after he sustained an injury in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 26, 2019.
Tennessee released Wake exactly a week short into the first year of his three-year contract.
Wake had 282 total tackles,100.5 sacks, 17 passes defensed, one interception, 22 forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in 11 NFL seasons.
Throughout Wake’s 11-year NFL career, he routinely outplayed bigger offensive linemen with exemplary skills in physics.
“Every single week the guy I’m going against is 320 pounds – guaranteed,” Wake told Reiter in 2014. “I’m giving up 60 pounds. How can I win? I have to be moving faster than him, get under him. It’s physics.”
One of the secrets to Wake’s success was his fanatical approach to his diet. One of his dietary staples was his salad which included carrots, greens, peppers, chicken breast, and some egg whites and avocado.
Wake told The Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser in December 2017 that he typically ate his salad dry. Whenever a pizza tempted Wake on the dinner table, he reminded himself it tasted good but made him feel lethargic after two days.
On the other hand, a salad was the exact opposite – it may not taste as good, but it made him feel great two days after he ate it.
“If you want to be great, you eat a salad with no dressing,” Wake told The Palm Beach Post.
Cocktails? Make mine a double…..Straight no chaser! pic.twitter.com/xnaga3yt4q
— Mr. Wake (@Kold91) January 30, 2016
Miami Dolphins great Jason Taylor (who was Wake’s teammate in the 2009 and 2011 NFL seasons) stated his case for Wake’s candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Cam is a better football player and a better pass rusher than I ever was,” Taylor told The Palm Beach Post in 2019.
Here’s hoping Cameron Wake gets a gold jacket and bust in Canton sooner than later.
Cameron Wake has not officially retired from the National Football League.
Prior to his release from the Tennessee Titans in March 2020, Wake told the team’s official website he had no plans of hanging up his cleats.
However, the 40-year-old Wake hasn’t signed with any NFL team since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out that same month.