Life is a journey, and no one knows that better than Oregon’s Dion Jordan.
The standout DE/OLB had to overcome family problems and a severe burning accident to become a likely Top 10 pick.
When Jordan was around 12, his father was long absent and his mother Sherrita was battling a crippling crack-cocaine addiction, preventing her from properly caring for her children. So, her sister Yative Tiger became the legal guardian for Jordan and his younger siblings, Michael and Sherrelle.
The traumatic experience could have been devastating for a youngster to face, but Jordan didn’t let it affect him.
“He was always a good kid, was good in school and never got into any fights,” said Tiger, who was also raising her two kids. “When he came to live with me, after his parents were having difficulties, he didn’t rebel or act out. He actually grew a lot.”
Football became an outlet for Jordan, and he was a star wide receiver/defensive end at Chandler High School (Ariz.), where he was mentored by former NFL TE Steve Jordan (no relation).
Jordan’s play impressed multiple college recruiters and he looked forward to receiving some good offers.
Then, in Oct. 2007, when he was a senior, Jordan’s friends were siphoning gas from a family car to another one with a vacuum and forgot to turn the machine off. He went to unplug it, but the cord sparked and flames engulfed him. Jordan’s body got severely burned, scorching 40 percent of his body.
Some doctors thought the Oregon Duck might not play football again, but the standout wouldn’t have any of that.
“Anytime you get into a situation where you feel like something is taken away from you, you start to value the little things in life,” said
Jordan, who has since completely healed from the accident. “I learned you first of all cannot take things for granted. Everything that you get is a blessing, so you have to understand where I was going before the accident. I had to understand that life wasn’t over and I was going to be OK, as long as I was persistent and taking advantage of the opportunities and blessings I am given.”
The 6-6, 248-pound athlete attacked his rehab with a passion. By doing everything the doctors told him, Jordan was able to compete well in track and field that spring.
“He exceeded the doctors’ expectations,” Tiger said. “They didn’t think he would ever play again, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I have never seen that determination in anyone else I know.”
Good came from that horrible experience. Jordan’s mother decided to go into drug rehab and has been clean ever since.
“Seeing how far she’s come, how much life she has given to my family, that’s inspired me to do better and trying to make the best of every situation,” Jordan said.
Jordan excelled at Oregon after switching from offense to play defense. He was a first-team all PAC-12 selection the last two years while collecting 12.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.
“I feel more comfortable when I stand up, but it all depends on the situation,” Jordan said. “I feel I could do both, playing with my hand in the ground and also play on my feet with coverage. I’m probably more valuable when I’m standing up, and I’m able to do a lot of things.”
The Butkus Award Finalist played through a right labrum tear sustained Oct. 27 against Colorado, but he said that he developed ”a high threshold for pain” and he had shoulder surgery in March so he could play his rookie season at full strength.
Jordan rigorously trained to gain muscle to be 250 at the Combine from his 230 playing weight, yet he fell short at 248. He did get impressive marks in the 40-yard dash (4.6), the vertical (32 inches) and broad jump (10-2).
He added he could play at 260 without losing his speed. Also, he said Jay Glazer and Chuck Lindell taught him MMA tactics about utilizing proper leverage to get past smaller players.
He hopes this training prepares him to excel in the NFL.
“I’ve been blessed and I’ve come a long way,” Jordan said.
Throughout his entire football career, Justin Hunter has only known one position: wide receiver.
“I like to run and jump,” Hunter said. “It was just easy for me and I feel comfortable for that position.”
The lanky Tennessee product has climbed the draft boards and could well be a first-round draft pick in this week’s NFL draft.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said that Hunter could be picked either by the St. Louis Rams (22nd) or the Houston Texans (27th) who both are trying to get that second complementary receiver to grow, adding that Hunter has untapped raw talent.
NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell even has Hunter rated higher as the top receiver in the draft because of his physical talent.
One reason the 6-4, 200-pound Volunteer has shot up the boards would be his athleticism.
During February’s Draft Combine, Hunter shined in the vertical jump (39.5 inches) and broad jump (11-4), which were the top marks for receivers. The former Volunteer also ran a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash.
“I worked hard when I was training,” Hunter said. “During the Combine, I was relaxed, focused, and real confident going into the field
Former Tennessee WR coach Charlie Bagget said athleticism is definitely Hunter’s biggest asset.
“If you look back at his history, he broke every record in long jump, high jump, and triple jump in high school in the state of Virginia during his senior year,” said Baggett ,who trained Hunter his freshman and sophomore years. “He’s a tremendous athlete. He had the best long jump and highest vertical in the Combine. He’s a very athletic person. He’s a very hard-working kid and a very high-character person. All those things combined make Justin a special athlete.”
Scouts say Hunter is a true X-WR, like the Ravens’ Torrey Smith and the Bengals’ A.J. Green, a big asset NFL teams are looking for in an increasingly pass-first league.
“One of the things Justin can do is stretch the field, and there’s a guy that comes to mind who used to stretch the field is Randy Moss, who I coached for five years with the Vikings,” said Baggett, a Vikings WR coach from 2000-2004. “I’m not saying that Justin can be Randy Moss, but he can stretch the field like Randy Moss did.”
Hunter said he tries to model his game after the legendary receiver, who he’s followed throughout No. 84’s career.
Coming out of Ocean Lakes High school (Virginia Beach, Va.) a highly touted recruit, Hunter played for Tennessee as a true freshman, getting 16 catches for 415 yards and seven touchdowns. Not even his talent could prevent the future first-round pick from feeling first-year jitters.
“Basically coming in, I really didn’t want to make any mistakes,” Hunter said. “I just wanted to understand the offense. My brother (Sherman) told me when you get an opportunity, make sure that you catch the ball, make big plays when that’s presented to you.
“They put me in nice spots so I could have chances to do that.”
A promising sophomore year was cut short with an ACL tear to his left knee, sending doubts into Hunter’s mind.
“It was hard,” Hunter said. “The first thing I thought about was that my career was over. People around me helped me out a lot for being there for me and encouraging me. It was real hard coming back because the treatment and rehab was real hard, but I feel like I’ve come back better than before.”
Baggett said Hunter is “a very hard-working kid” who always improves. A junior year of 73 - 1,083 - 9 proved him right.
“He got hurt his sophomore year and it kind of interrupted his progressed,” Baggett said. “After I left, he really came into his own. He
overcame his injury to his knee. Just the progress from his freshman year to his junior year has been tremendous. Justin was a raw talent when he came out of high school, and I still think he hasn’t reached his full potential.
“When he gets to the NFL, there are a lot of things he can improve on, and I think he will because of his work ethic and his desire to be
Hunter said he gained confidence in his fixed knee midway through his junior year, something he called “a psychological thing.”
Teammate Cordarrelle Patterson is another potential first-rounder who Hunter started opposite of during his junior. While Patterson might have gotten a little more attention for his play at Tennessee, Hunter thinks it helped his game.
“There’s always going to be competition, and that brings the best out of players,” Hunter said. “He wanted to be better than me and I wanted to be better than him. It made our work ethics better.”
One area Hunter will work on is getting stronger, so he could more explosive. Baggett said the added strength will come in handy to beat the press coverage.
Improving his concentration is another goal, as both Hunter and Baggett noted the potential high draft pick had a few drops that were
uncharacteristic for him.
Older brother Sherman and mother Gloria Hunter are role models for Hunter, who grew up in a single-parent home. Baggett said Hunter had “a bit of a tough upbringing,” but thinks Gloria did “a tremendous job raising a very high-character kid.”
On Thursday, Hunter will know the team and city he is going to represent for the next few years, and that has pumped him up.
“Just making it to the NFL and being able to play on Sundays, will be living up to my dream,” Hunter said. “It will be such a blessing to put the pads on.”
The Draft Combine did not turn out how former Utah defensive tackle Starlite Lotulelei hoped for.
Lotulelei, the top nose tackle prospect from Utah who is projected as a Top 10 pick, had a heart condition that prevented him from showing the scouts what he could do athletically.
Doctors said the tackle could still exercise and train, but decided to cautiously hold him out of the combine drills.
Despite not performing at Indianapolis, Lotulelei has plenty of tape showing scouts that he’s the real deal. While Lotulelei declined to be interviewed, his former coaches paint a picture of a humble and hard working athlete who earns his namesake.
Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said the 6-3, 320 pound All-American is a hard worker who has size, power, and speed. Sitake’s team plays both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes, so the Tonga native is a versatile commodity.
"If you watch the USC game, he wanted to match up with C Khaled Holmes and focus on him one-on-one," Sitake said. "There are times when you feel like you are comfortable with Star lining up at zero and you put him there. There are tons of film of him playing at zero up the nose and there’s a lot of film of him playing at the DE position.
"Will he make a lot of plays at the DE, probably not. His job was to collapse the pocket and take blocks to help the other guys get
During the USC game this past season, Lotulelei exploded up the middle, directly forcing Holmes to give QB Matt Barkley a sloppy exchange. Barkley fumbled the ball and Lotulelei quickly dove for a successful recovery.
"That’s when he was playing in the zero up off center," Sitake said. "It’s hard for a center who’s going to block a guy so explosive to snap the ball and block at the same time. He’s just so quick off the ball that when it’s snapped, he just pounced on the center, messing up the quarterback exchange."
In 2012, Lotulelei gained All-American and All-Pac-12 honors as he compiled 42 tackles (11 for loss), five sacks, and three forced fumbles.
Lotulelei wasn’t always on top of the football totem pole.
Bad grades prevented him from playing for Brigham Young University after he graduated from Bingham High (Utah).
The future NFL star's high school coach Dave Peck said that Lotulelei had an extremely high level of talent that was raw because he had just one year of organized football under his belt. Peck said the 23-year-old’s prep talent level reminded him of former Bingham star and NFL WR Kevin Curtis.
"I had to pull him aside more than once," said Peck, who still keeps in contact with Lotulelei. "I took him aside once during his senior year before the playoffs and let him have it. I told him if he is tardy to one more class or misses a class, you won’t be playing for us. I didn’t have a problem after that timeframe. It was frustrating because I knew he could be getting better grades than he was getting."
Working at a furniture store after high school helped Lotulelei gain muscle (he was 240 after high school and built significant muscle from constant heavy lifting) and learn the importance of an education.
Star played for Snow Community College (Utah) in 2008 and excelled there. He sat out the 2009 season, but he did well enough to transfer to Utah.
Following his former student’s collegiate career, Peck said Lotulelei’s biggest improvement has been his work ethic, as his improved
grades have helped the Morris Trophy winner focus more on the gridiron.
"When that changed in the classroom, I think you saw a difference in how he played on the football field too," Peck stated, noting Lotulelei skipped entering last year’s draft to finish his sociology degree. "He’s always been a good football player. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s done great things in college. What I’m really happy with and proud of is what he’s done academically."
Star’s athletic prowess got recognition after one of his senior season games.
"I like Star Lotulelei," said an NFL scout on the condition of anonymity. "He lost a lot of weight this year (he played around 360 in 2011) and he is moving around better than he did last year. He is still raw and untapped and has a lot of upside. There is a lot to like."
While teams will be questioning Lotulelei’s health, Sitake noted he played "95 percent" of the snaps and always "at a high level." The defensive tackle was consistently double and even triple teamed, but that helped his teammates make plays.
Teams should keep that in mind when evaluating a potential monster who consistently blows up the pocket.
Catching the football seemed more of Tyler Eifert's forte than blocking during his first three seasons with Notre Dame.
But the coveted red-zone target made sure he shored up that aspect of his game, thus raising his NFL draft stock to become a potential first-round selection.
The 6-6, 251-pound Bishop Dwenger High School (Ind.) alum came into college more as a hybrid wide receiver who needed to grow more into his body.
Notre Dame WR coach and former TE coach Mike Denbrock said the young Eifert was slowed down by nagging injuries.
A back injury ended his 2009 season after one game, and a left shoulder injury in ‘10 prevented Eifert from gaining the muscle needed to take "his blocking to the next level," Denbrock said, adding productive weightlifting is extremely difficult with those areas hurt.
In 2012, that all changed when Eifert was 100 percent healthy.
"It was another year in the system and understanding the offense, having another year putting emphasis on blocking to get better at it," said Eifert, a team captain and Mackey Award winner. "It was trying to get better at the little technique things like where your hands go, what steps to take."
When asked if he wanted to be a complete tight end like the Steelers' Heath Miller, Eifert quickly stated "that's the goal,” adding that he
is proud of the hard work he did to overhaul his blocking technique.
Eifert's blocking opened up Notre Dame's offense during its BCS National Championship run, as his increased physicality helped pace the running game for NFL RB prospects, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick.
What’s more, the Indiana native had to adjust midseason from Tommy Rees to Everett Golson as his quarterback.
"I didn't really have to change much of what I did," said Eifert, who became Golson's go-to receiver after rebounding from a slow start. "We ran the same plays. The quarterbacks had the same reads and ran the same routes. Sometimes, you have to get used to Everett extending the plays and realizing you could make a big play because he's looking downfield. He always has his eyes down the field."
The past two seasons, Eifert grabbed 113 catches for 1,488 yards and nine touchdowns. The AP second-team All-American holds the Notre Dame TE record for career completions and receiving yards.
Denbrock, who also coached Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph, said he hasn't trained anybody with Eifert's unique skill set.
"He's incredibly competitive as a person," Denbrock said. "It's important for him to do well. He gets a lot of pride in his effort and the way he plays the game. For a guy who's 6-6, 250 pounds, he runs extremely well. He's got great athletic ability as far as being able to get in and out of breaks as a route runner.
"When the ball is in the air, I haven't been around anyone who is better at going and getting it than he is. He's got this mentality when you throw the ball in his direction, he's going to find a way to catch it."
Looking up to the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, Eifert was able to frequently split wide at receiver his entire senior season. He said it was the coaches' faith in him to give the Fighting Irish a top receiving threat after Michael Floyd left for the NFL.
"I'm very comfortable (splitting out)," Eifert said. "I played receiver in high school and kind of converted to tight end in college. I'm
comfortable out there and making plays."
Early in his career, Eifert backed up the former All-American Rudolph, saying he learned "a lot from him" about football being a business and how to handle himself on and off the field. Eifert still keeps in contact with Rudolph, who told him life is very different when you enter the NFL.
"He told me to enjoy the process," Eifert said. "It's going to be over before you know it."
Eifert, who played basketball in high school, explained that the hardwood prepares tight ends to use their bodies to get positioning on defensive backs and helps make their footwork more efficient.
A good showing at the Scouting Combine could propel Eifert to be picked ahead of both Stanford's Zach Ertz and San Diego State's Gavin Escobar.
"(Tyler) is going to play for a number of years in the NFL and be a huge contributor to whoever wants him on their franchise," Denbrock said.
Since the institution of the NFL draft, Baylor University has mainly been known for supplying offensive and defensive linemen to the
professional ranks, specifically 60 out of 155 draft picks have been linemen.
However, things have changed a bit in Waco lately, as three wide receivers were picked in the NFL or supplemental draft since 2010. Before that, only nine Baylor wideouts were selected from 1936-2009.
It sure looks that way, especially after back-to-back seasons producing All-Americans in Kendall Wright and most recently Terrance Williams.
Many thought Williams would have a significant drop-off from his junior year (59 catches for 957 yards and 11 TDs), when Wright and fellow All-American Robert Griffin III left for the NFL. Instead, the 6-2, 205-pound Williams hauled in 97-1,832-12 on his way to All-American honors.
Baylor passing coordinator Kendal Briles said that with Wright gone, he wanted Williams to step up into a leadership role in encouraging his offensive teammates.
Not only that, Williams got reacquainted with QB Nick Florence, Williams’ QB for the better part of his redshirt freshman
“That summer when Robert left, we got back together and started getting on the same page with the routes,” Williams said. “We came three times a week to practice the routes and just know where each of us are going to be. Once we mastered that, we knew we were going to be ready for the season.”
Williams quickly became Florence’s go-to receiver, and it showed during a five-game stretch against Big 12 competition, when Williams exploded for 54-987-6, including 314 yards against West Virginia.
“It was me being a competitor and trying to do the best I can to help my team win,” explained the Maxwell Award finalist. “Basically, when my number was called, I had to join that play. Those were the games where I had my mind molded so to join that play when they called my number.”
Briles, who also coached Panthers WR David Gettis and Browns WR Josh Gordon, compares Williams to Jerry Rice with his smooth play and secure hands.
“He’s got a great knack to get open,” Briles said. “He’s a quarterback’s friend. Somehow and someway, Terrance is going to get open and find a way to come down with the ball. He has a great knack for playing receiver and knowing the position. He makes my job coaching pretty easy. I just put him on the field and watch him work. I think that part of him is similar to the way Jerry Rice played the game.”
The recent boom in wideouts excelling at Baylor, Briles said, is in part because the coaches prevent receivers from being hit during practice, and the strength and conditioning program, run by Kaz Kazadi, properly develops their strength and keeps them healthy.
Good play-calling doesn’t hurt either.
“They want us to play the best we could,” Williams said. “With what David, Kendall, Josh and I did, what we all learned is that they put us in spots where we could have the long, big plays from feeding off the run. If people like us keep going to the league, then Baylor is a very hot spot where you would want to keep coming. To have people with that type of yardage, it would seem like a hot spot to me.”
His good friend, Wright, talks to him two to three times a week and lets him know the NFL is a lot faster and relies more on timing and rhythm than route running.
“You’ve got to have your head in the game every single play, and you have to be in the right spot at the right time for the quarterback to come your way, and you never know when they will come your way,” Williams said. “You’ve got to keep paying attention to that.”
The future first-round pick not only will make his future NFL team really happy, but his play might convince other wideouts that Baylor is the program to fully develop their talents.
Dreams drive individuals, providing them the motivation needed to achieve an important goal.
Missouri Defensive Tackle Sheldon Richardson’s dream was to play in the NFL. That has always been his one sole goal, and he will achieve that dream come April’s draft.
“That’s always been a dream of mine, ever since I was a little kid,” said Richardson, who loves football’s physicality and team focus.“I came and told everyone in my neighborhood, school, and family that I was going to play football when I grow up. ... I was one of those kids who put all his eggs in one basket.”
The 6-4, 295-pound Richardson is projected as a mid-first-round pick and arguably is the top defensive tackle available. The Mizzou product radiates immense confidence in his athletic abilities, something his family helped him develop while growing up in St. Louis.
His father, Michael, was a star football player for Sullivan High School (Mo.), and his older brothers, Shaun and Sherron, are also talented athletes. Richardson would eagerly play street ball every day against his brothers and their friends when he was eight and they were between the ages of five and seven years older.
“I would surprise them,” Richardson laughed. “It might not be every play, of course they were bigger than me, so they would try to pick on me a bit. But I would be the little brother/little kid on the street that would always surprise the older kids and they were like, ‘Boy, you could play with us.’”
His parents enrolled him in Pop Warner, and he continued to impress by being the team captain, even though he was two years younger than everyone else.
After dominating in high school by excelling at multiple positions, Richardson’s grades weren’t good enough to enter Missouri, so he
played for the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif. for two years while briefly switching his commitment to USC.
He missed Mizzou’s spring ball in 2011 and almost was late to training camp because the NCAA took a long time approving a community college class. During his first week, Richardson tore his left labrum when his teammate, OLT Justin Britt, caught him in an awkward spot.
2011 saw Richardson earn All-Big 12 honorable mention honors despite starting just two games. He had labrum surgery last January and the Mizzou trainers helped him “trim down 30 pounds” before training camp.
Opponents couldn’t stop the explosive Richardson at all in 2012, as the lightning-quick prospect amassed 75 tackles (10.5 for loss), four sacks, and three forced fumbles on his way to Associated Press first-team All-SEC honors.
“I felt I was ready to play in the NFL, period,” Richardson said about skipping his senior year. “College was a little too much fun, a little too easy for me. I feel like I needed to take my talents to the NFL and start trying against the big dogs.”
Former NFL defensive line coach/defensive coordinator George Dyer (1982-2003), who trained the Eagles’ Fletcher Cox last year, has been coaching Richardson to get him ready for the Scouting Combine. Dyer thinks Richardson’s game reminds him of Warren Sapp’s and Giants DT Shaun Rogers’.
“There is a tremendous athlete with a tremendous suddenness, which is what I always look for in a big man inside,” said Dyer, noting
Richardson moves like a 260-pound end and can drop into coverage. “He’s got good speed, is a bright guy, and strong. He will use power, quickness. He’s got all the tools you need to be very, very, very good.”
Besides Richardson’s pass rushing, Dyer said he knows how to lighten the mood in a locker room while also being a very hard worker,
something that’s “hard to pull off.”
Richardson stated he could bulk up to 310 pounds without losing his quickness, and wants to know a defensive system in and out.
“I don’t want to know just my defensive line position,” Richardson said. “I want to know where my linebackers will be and see how the defense flows. I play the game like water, in the flow of the game.”
Playing football or safety weren’t the initial goals for LSU FS Eric Reid, the top safety in the upcoming draft.
In middle school, Reid excelled at soccer and thought that was his thing. A very talented college player, however, changed his mind.
“It’s a funny story,” Reid laughed. “I was very good at soccer. But by my eighth grade year, that’s when Reggie Bush led USC. Originally, I wanted to be like Reggie Bush. He’s the guy who made me want to play football.”
The 6-2, 210-pound Reid arrived at Dutchtown High School (Geismar, La.) as a freshman running back and safety, though he wanted to be the offensive star. Another talented player changed his future.
“Alabama’s Eddie Lacy was the star running back at my high school,” Reid said. “I knew that position wasn’t going to work for me, so that’s why I switched to safety.”
And that switch proved to be very beneficial. Reid stood out in a star-studded LSU defense the past three seasons, gaining national notice when pulled down an acrobatic, goal line interception in the fourth quarter against No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 5, 2011.
The safety amassed an impressive 76 tackles and two interceptions in 2011, gaining second-team All-SEC honors. Reid had an even better 2012 campaign, with 91 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions to make first-team All-American.
A partial right quad tear during Reid’s sophomore year was reaggravated in 2012, though he played through it. “It’s completely healthy now and not a problem,” the safety said.
The 21-year-old Louisiana native played his first two seasons with Arizona Cardinals' cornerback Patrick Peterson, Dallas Cowboys' cornerback Morris Claiborne and All-American cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, but he had to adjust to being the leader without their presence his junior year.
“I think it was better for him this year by not having those types of guys around him,” LSU defensive backs coach Tiger Raymond said. “It put him in the front to not just be another guy. Now he had to talk more to the younger guys and be a leader. That was one of the things that helped him become a leader in the backfield with so many freshmen playing.”
Raymond — who stayed with Reid’s father, Eric Sr., in the same LSU dorm and replaced Ron Cooper as DB coach this year — said Reid is a polished player scheme-wise, but he wanted to better his footwork, develop his leadership qualities and his pre-game preparedness.
“He can cover the slot,” Raymond said. “He’s done some nice things there for a safety. He can do multiple things. He could come into the box, make tackles, and then play in space against receivers.
“The great thing about him is the way he approaches the game. He is going to be NFL-ready. He is going to be like a veteran with the things we worked on this year.”
Raymond, who thinks Reid’s game resembles that of 49ers All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson, said his talented pupil could be the face of an NFL franchise because “he does everything right on and off the field and always looks to improve himself.”
As for Reid, he is training with 40 other NFL prospects — including Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Manti Te’o, and Lacy. Reid added he’s developed a close bond with Eifert during their training as they work on safety-tight end coverage drills at half-speed, and they have even taken in a recent Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers game together.
One area of Reid’s game that needs improvement is covering wide receivers without checking downfield.
“The huge thing, especially for DBs in their transition to the NFL, is that it’s not like college anymore,” Reid said. “You can’t bang a receiver all the way down the field. You only have a five-yard cushion. I’m looking to improve upon my coverage without touching receivers."
Football doesn’t solely rule Reid’s life, as he is a devoted father to his precious three-year-old daughter, LeiLani, who knows it’s daddy on the TV by his number. He also wants to someday complete his business marketing degree (his parents emphasized education being vital to success throughout his childhood) and help his former teachers in his hometown whenever he can. Down the line, Reid wants to start a nonprofit organization.
“Having a child so young, it definitely changes your motives,” Reid thoughtfully stated. “When she was born, I had to grow up. I knew I had to stay focused and provide for my daughter; she is the reason that I do everything that I do.”
Notre Dame and head coach Brian Kelly are very lucky, 4-Star WR Laquon Treadwell, one of the nation’s hottest prospects, added the Fighting Irish back on his list of top BCS schools.
As reported by Edgy Tim O’Halloran in The Chicago Tribune, Treadwell added the Fighting Irish to his exclusive list that includes Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Mississippi.
“They are family-like teams; it’s not just about football,”Treadwell said in a first-hand interview. “It’s a family atmosphere so if you mess up on something whether or not it’s football related, they will stand by you.”
Notre Dame eyed the sensational Treadwell—who is a four-year varsity player and also plays free safety at a high level— last year as Treadwell visited the campus. Treadwell also visited the Wolverines, who will continue their 2011 battle for the superstar.
One thing to keep in mind is Treadwell will officially visit Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Mississippi (former teammate and friend Anthony Standifer switched from Michigan to the Rebels), and will choose his final two visits between the three programs.
Treadwell would fit very well at Notre Dame, with sophomore quarterback Everett Golson the new face of the offense. Golson is going to need more targets as tight end Tyler Eifert and wide receiver John Goodman are both seniors and are leaving the Fighting Irish.
Treadwell (68 catches, 1,214 yards, 14 TDs) will likely make The Chicago Tribune’s All-State Football Team for the second consecutive year and has been selected to participate in the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 5 at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field.
“I could see myself getting comfortable with a team after I take my official visits,” Treadwell said. “I will probably make a decision after the All-American Game.”
The top wide receiver in the Class of 2013, the 6’4”,200-pound Treadwell possesses speed, size, and strength—all attributes he is showcasing as he is guiding his Crete-Monee Warriors to the 6A Illinois High School Association state semifinals for the first time in school history.
In his first playoff game against Springfield on Oct. 27, Treadwell hauled in seven catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was on a bubble screen he took 34-yards to the house.
A bigger game for Treadwell came against Peoria Richwoods on Nov. 3, as the Warriors lost 51-36 to them during last year’s playoffs. Treadwell, who runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds, scored two rushing touchdowns this time around.
Treadwell has 19 rushes for 161 yards, five scores and two two-point conversions on the season.
“It helps me a lot,” Treadwell said. “It gives me more touches. Coach Jerry Verde wants to get the ball in my hands because last year in the playoffs, we couldn’t execute the way we wanted too offensively. He is moving me around a lot to give defenses problems.”
Besides the rushes, the savvy Treadwell picked off Peoria Richwoods quarterback for a 50-yard pick-six, helping to offset seven Crete-Monee turnovers to preserve a narrow 35-32 victory.
“You just got to be patient back there,” said Treadwell, who has four interceptions and two forced fumbles. “Play-action is going to hit you a couple times, so you just have to be patient. I was making good reads because it’s like an instinct to me as I played defense in youth football.”
Treadwell then helped his Warriors defeat an unbeaten Ottawa squad 42-6, giving the Warriors their first trip to the state semifinals in school history.
Treadwell had a nifty 25-yard catch up the middle, withstanding a big shot from an Ottawa linebacker. Later that drive, Crete-Monee quarterback Marcus Terrell threw an 8-yard score on a post route to Treadwell, as he beat a double team in the end zone.
On a later drive on a key 3rd-and-8, Treadwell caught a delayed screen and juked a couple Ottawa defenders to get eight extra yards for the first down. That play extended the drive to an eventual touchdown, with Treadwell scoring on a 15-yard jet sweep.
Not only did Treadwell make plays, but also his presence opens the field for his teammates. When Treadwell was double-teamed on the right side, senior wide receiver and Division I prospect Lance Lenoir exploited a soft zone and caught a 35-yard touchdown as he burned the cornerback.
When one discusses the NFL’s elite tight ends, people will mention the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski, the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham, the San Diego Chargers’ Antonio Gates, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tony Gonzalez, and the San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis as the ones who make an enormous difference on their football teams.
The one who is always overlooked in the conversation is Pittsburgh Steelers TE Heath Miller.
Usually, a tight end is just a good blocker or a good receiver. Miller— who was recognized as the top tight end prospect of the 2005 NFL Draft and was picked 30th overall by Pittsburgh—performs both at a high level.
The Steelers’ offensive line has struggled mightily the past few seasons, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been smashed harder than a fragile Mexican piñata the past four seasons (Roethlisberger has been sacked 135 times similar to Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler since 2009).
To remedy that, the Steelers primarily use Miller as an extra offensive lineman who has busted holes for great running backs like Rashard Mendenhall, Jerome Bettis, and Willie Parker throughout his career.
Miller wasn’t a good base-blocker coming out of college, though he has improved as the years have gone on. During the Steelers’ 24-17 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, Miller registered an amazing block that changed the game.
The 6’5”, 255-pound Virginia product lined up by LT Max Starks before the Steelers executed a run play to RB Chris Rainey in a 17-17 game in the fourth quarter. Miller noticed that Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict was blitzing on the inside where Rainey was to run.
Miller read the play perfectly and annihilated Burfict right of center, allowing Rainey to streak 11-yards untouched for the game-winning touchdown. That play needed perfect timing or Rainey would’ve been stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
Miller, also known as “Big Money,” can also haul in the big catch. No. 83 broke ACC tight end records for receptions (144), yards (1,703), and touchdowns (20). A hernia injury forced Big Money to sit out of the Draft Combine and slowed him down his rookie year.
Despite that, he has been Big Ben’s security blanket for the past eight seasons in red zone situations, hauling in 37 scores and 4,200 yards when he isn’t even the featured weapon on offense.
The Steelers’ offense is sputtering a bit this year. Wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace have dropped some key passes and the running game has been on hold with Mendenhall battling a slew of injuries.
Pittsburgh has been respectable offensively thanks to Miller. Big Money has 336 yards, six touchdowns, a two-point conversion, and has helped the offensive line surrender just 13 sacks through seven contests.
That touchdown number is second in the NFL behind Gronkowski, Green Bay Packer wideout James Jones, Cincinnati Bengals’ receiver A.J. Green, and New York Giants slot receiver Victor Cruz (all have seven). Not bad company to chill with.
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley is featuring Miller a bit more in red zone situations this year, and who would blame him as Big Money keeps getting into pay dirt.
With a Pro Bowl selection in 2009, Miller is a strong candidate to gain another nomination as he leads a 4-3 squad as they clash for a coveted playoff spot in the messy AFC race.
BY: BOB BAJEK
Caesars Head State Park in South Carolina annually witnesses the North American Hawk Migration where thousands of Broad-winged Hawks majestically fly over the Blue Ridge Escarpment to find a warmer home for the winter.
Another hawk hailing from South Carolina is Bears CB Tim Jennings, who this season has soared from a pedestrian starter to elite corner with his ball-hawking abilities that were fine-tuned through rigorous offseason training.
Ask fellow Bears CB D.J. Moore how Jennings secured the nickname “Hawk,” and Moore cracks a smile