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Join Date: Apr 2004
Re: Whitney Mercilus - First Round Pick
Some interesting background on our new Texan. One thing that those that have criticisms of his play...........HE IS ONLY 21 YEARS OLD..........I.E., ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF UP SIDE.
from The Cleveland Plain Dealer
April 24, 2012
The phone began ringing after the incredible numbers piled up -- 16 sacks, nine forced fumbles last season.
NFL scouts called about Illinois junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus asking the same question: Who is this guy?
Well, maybe not who, but what, as in, "What was the difference between last year and this year?" said Keith Gilmore, his college position coach. "Why all of a sudden he became a great player."
It was as if the 6-4, 261-pound Mercilus suddenly emerged from a cornfield to become a likely first-round pick Thursday in the NFL draft.
The former Akron Garfield standout and Plain Dealer All-Star had started just two games with one sack as a sophomore, and recorded just one sack as a redshirt freshman.
It wasn't a cornfield. It was a weight room, and the football classroom, and intense training to improve his speed and pass-rushing technique.
"I became more of a student of the game," he said by phone recently between stops on a whirlwind tour of NFL team visits. "And also I worked harder in terms of developing my body."
The student's confidence grew with experience and playing time, Gilmore said, and he better understood blocking schemes and how offenses might try to handle him.
"And I would say his finger had a lot to do with it, too," said his younger brother, Donald, a freshman free safety and double business major at Mount Union.
Mercilus lost the tip of his left index finger in a weightlifting accident when he reached in to help a teammate who was losing control of a lift. The fingertip was cut off between the weights and weight stand.
"That just opened his eyes to see that anything could happen any day," his brother said. "I guess he looked at life in a new perspective."
As the season progressed, Gilmore also reminded Mercilus, who plays with a finger splint inside his glove, to worry less and just cut it loose.
"I think early in the year, he was afraid to make a mistake," Gilmore said. "He's such a conscientious kid. It was an ongoing conversation."
The conversation has shifted to how high in the draft Mercilus will go. Most draft analysts project him as a mid-to-late first-rounder.
Seven teams, including the Browns, Chicago and San Diego, brought him in for a visit. Green Bay and Baltimore sent his high school coach questionnaires to learn more about him.
"Where I land is not really a preference to me," said Mercilus, the middle child of Haitian immigrants who settled in Akron by way of New York. "Football is football, no matter how you look at."
But when Garfield High School coach Bob Sax first caught a glimpse, Mercilus was a 6-0, 185-pound freshman without a clue. He hadn't played a down -- at any level.
"He was really raw," Sax said. "You could tell he didn't really know how to block or run routes."
Mercilus, initially a tight end, still remembers his first game.
"I want to say it was against East," he said. "I got a tight end 'pop pass' and caught the ball, but I fumbled it because the kid put his helmet right on the ball and made it come out. That was my first time."
By his junior year of high school, though, he was athletic, big and strong enough to play both ways -- tight end and defensive end -- and colleges paid attention.
"Every time he comes home, he'd be like, 'Dad, mister such and such is going to come down to my school to see me play,' " recalled his father Wilner Mercilus, who works as a caregiver for senior citizens.
"I'd say: 'Are you sure? Are you getting that good? Are you sure they're coming to your school to see you play?' I knew he could do whatever he can on a field to become good, but it was hard for me to believe they were coming to school only to focus on him, you know?"
Some colleges identified his son as a tight end. Illinois, which he chose partly to be closer to home, recruited him for defense.
"I definitely wanted to play defense instead of offense," Mercilus said. "Give the hit, not take it."
Last fall, he was a giver.
The nine forced fumbles are a Big Ten single-season record and just one short of an NCAA record. His 16 sacks tied an Illinois record (NFL Pro Bowler Simeon Rice in 1994).
"We always knew what he could do," said Illinois teammate Justin Staples, a redshirt senior defensive lineman from St. Edward, who was in the same Illini recruiting class with Mercilus, Mayfield's Ashante Williams and Glenville's Cordell Scott. "I've never seen Whitney take a play off."
The accolades poured in. Mercilus was named a first-team All-American by nine news outlets/publications, including the Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America and American Football Coaches Association.
After his record-setting junior season, Mercilus talked to his parents and coaches about whether to go pro, got an estimate from the NFL about his possible draft ranking and declared himself eligible. Because of his athleticism, Mercilus also is being looked at as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Mercilus said it was a tough decision, being a semester short of a community health degree, which he said is important to him and his parents. He also didn't want to declare for the draft and then slip to the late rounds or not get chosen at all. He has heard the "one-hit wonder" whispers.
But the consensus had his value much higher.
"That made me more comfortable about my decision," he said. "Got the NFL grade back, which was a third-round grade, and they usually do it conservatively. So I thought, second round, why not? So I decided to make the jump."
So, on Thursday night, Mercilus, surrounded by family and friends, many coming from out of town, and some on Skype to Haiti, will be in Akron as his football future unfolds on the national stage.
"There is what is called joy, happiness," his father said. "Then at the same time fear, stress, all combined together. That day, we're going to be sitting in front of the TV, you're heart is going to be beeping high."
"No matter what comes," said his mother Yvrose, "it comes."