Wednesday, April 29, 2009

No experience necessary: KSU's Porter going to Patriots

By Jonas Fortune

April 27, 2009

Just one month ago Kent State senior wrestler Jermail Porter earned All-American status at the 2009 NCAA Championships in St. Louis, The first Kent State wrestler to do so since 1986.

It was what happened the week leading up to the finals though that changed his future.

Kent State assistant football coach Larry McDaniel approached the former Firestone High School graduate about playing professional football after his college-wrestling career ended.

''It was unexpected for me,'' Porter said in a phone interview. ''It's a new adventure.''

Apparently the New England Patriots had the same thoughts about the 6-foot-6, 312-pound heavyweight. Porter has reached an agreement with the Patriots as a non-drafted free agent, and potential offensive lineman.

The deal is not official yet, as Porter, who is waiting for the contract to be mailed to him. He is already scheduled to participate in the Patriot's rookie camp Thursday through Sunday.

The Patriots could not be a better fit for Porter, who said he has always been interested in playing football, but never played for an organized team; college, high school, or otherwise.

Patriots starting guard Stephen Neal is a former college wrestler, who did not play college football. Neal won two NCAA titles at Cal State-Bakersfield and won the Dan Hodge Award, Wrestling's Heisman Trophy, in 1999.

''It is one of the things I am so excited because they have such good teachers there,'' Porter said.

It doesn't hurt that he and Neal share the same agent in Neil Cornrich.

For the past several weeks Porter has been working with the Kent State football staff in preparation for the draft.

''The training wasn't that different, just fine tuning the mechanics from wrestling to football,'' Porter said. ''Most of it is stuff I am already equipped to do from wrestling.''

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sports Illustrated "Loves" Dolphins' Draft Pick Brian Hartline

From Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback," April 27, 2009

Miami. Love Pat White; great pick to run the option. (And stop the silliness, Dolphins, about White having a good shot to beat out Chad Henne as the successor to Chad Pennington. I'm not buying it for a second.) One of the most intriguing prospects of this, or any, draft came in round four: 6-4 corner Sean Smith from Utah ... One guy I'd watch closely in camp is Brian Hartline, the round-four receiver, because he played special-teams for three years at Ohio State, played slot receiver and split receiver. He's a fascinating prospect.

Ten Things I Think I Think

• I don't like Brian Hartline to the Dolphins in the fourth round. I love it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

NC Sports Clients Washington, Hartline selected in NFL draft

Seven Buckeyes go in draft

April 27, 2009

By Doug Lesmerises

When USC drummed Ohio State, 35-3, last September, the game was like an NFL exhibition. Over the weekend in the NFL Draft, the Trojans beat the Buckeyes again, but no other school did.

With cornerback Donald Washington (Kansas City) and receiver Brian Hartline (Miami) selected in the fourth round Sunday and linebacker Marcus Freeman taken in the fifth round (Chicago), Ohio State finished with seven players taken in the seven-round draft, after Malcolm Jenkins and Chris "Beanie" Wells went in Saturday's first round and James Laurinaitis and Brian Robiskie went in the second.

That tied Oregon State and South Carolina for the second-most picks, behind the 11 the Trojans produced, including eight on the defensive side. No wonder Ohio State didn't score a touchdown in that game.

But the day ended without a selection for OSU offensive tackle Alex Boone, defensive tackle Nader Abdallah and quarterback Todd Boeckman. Boone, a Lakewood St. Edward grad, signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers shortly after the draft.

"It was a humbling experience, that's for sure," Boone said of watching the draft all day. He was projected as a high pick before his senior season at Ohio State, but saw his status affected by an arrest in California for public intoxication before the NFL Combine.

"I learned some lessons the hard way," Boone said. "But the 49ers called and were very interested and pushing for me, and right now it's the best fit for me."

Freeman was picked, but he also waited and went lower than many expected.

"You go through a mixture of emotions," Freeman said after he was the 17th linebacker selected and the 154th overall pick. "Once you get out of the first couple of rounds you go from excited to anxious to nervous to disappointed. But once it's over, it's over, and your emotions go out the window and you're relieved to be able to go and play."

Washington, pick No. 102, and Hartline, No. 108, had to be somewhat satisfied with their positions after they had turned heads at the NFL Combine, Washington with his vertical jump and athleticism and Hartline with his agility and quickness.

Kansas City coach Todd Haley said the Chiefs thought about moving up to get Washington in the third round and were happy he fell to them in the fourth. Washington was suspended for two games for violating OSU team rules last season, but Haley said the Chiefs put that to rest after meeting with Washington for a day-and-a-half and talking extensively with OSU coaches and agent Neil Cornrich before the draft.

"He's a very good athlete, I mean very good," Haley said at a news conference in Kansas City. "I think he's under the radar just a little bit because he didn't start full time last year."

Hartline is expected to work in as a slot receiver, though Miami selected one of those USC players, receiver Patrick Turner, ahead of him in the third round. Hartline should also be a special teamer with the Dolphins, telling reporters on a conference call that he liked "cracking heads" on kick coverage. He'll join fellow former Cleveland Glenville High and OSU receiver Ted Ginn Jr. in Miami, though he said his best NFL comparison is his OSU mentor, Cleveland St. Ignatius graduate Anthony Gonzalez of the Indianapolis Colts.

Considering both Washington and Hartline surprised some fans by turning pro as juniors, they at least didn't have to wait too long on the draft's second day.

"After I went to the combine I felt a lot better about my decision," Hartline said on a conference call. "It worked out. It's hard to justify what exactly made me decide to further my career [in the NFL], but Ohio State was great to me, and hopefully one day I can repay the favor."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ryan Durand receives 2009 Soloday Award

'Cuse Awards Celebrates Orange Success

April 19, 2009

Syracuse student-athletes took center stage to celebrate the extraordinary athletic, academic and community service achievements of Syracuse University Athletics in 2008-09. Orange student-athletes, coaches and staff gathered at the Landmark Theater on April 19 for the third annual 'Cuse Awards.

The 2009 Soladay Awards were presented to lacrosse student-athlete Katie Rowan and football student-athlete Ryan Durand. The Soladay award is the highest honor bestowed upon a senior male and female student-athlete. Rowan set single-season school records with 123 points and 57 assists and she has become Syracuse's all-time leader in points, assists and goals. A unanimous 2008 All-BIG EAST First Team selection, Rowan earned the 2008 BIG EAST Attack Player of the Year award and was named the 2008 BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player. Durand is a two-time ESPN the Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-American and was a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation Draddy Trophy, recognizing the best scholar-athletes in college football. In 2008, Durand and the offensive line were Instrumental in helping running back Curtis Brinkley become the eighth different player in Syracuse history to record 1,000 rushing yards in a season.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cole Looking Sharp at Seahawks Camp

From Chris Egan's Seahawks Blog, April 8, 2009

If you haven't seen one of the newest Hawks on defense, then you haven't been to the Hawks mini-camp this week. Defensive Tackle Colin Cole is a beast, 6'1" and 330 pounds. Don't let the weight fool ya, this guy can bring it. I watched him closely at practice today and he knows how to turn on the jets for a big man. With Cole, Brandon Mebane, Cory Redding, Red Bryant and Craig Terrill all at D-tackle, I think the Hawks finally have the cupboard's full at that position. "I'm here to help wherever I can", says Cole. "I'll work hard, learn the schemes and do what I can to get this team back to the top." The former Green Bay Packer is excited to be in Seattle and I'm excited to get the chance to cover this guy.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Ferentz tops Rodriguez for top spot in Big Ten coaching rankings

By Tom Dienhart

April 7, 2009

The Big Ten is loaded with plenty of veteran coaching talent, but most of it hasn't been in place at its current school for long. Seven of the coaches have been on the job three years or less; Purdue's Danny Hope is in his first year, Michigan's Rich Rodriguez begins his second in Ann Arbor and Minnesota's Tim Brewster, Indiana's Bill Lynch and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio enter their third seasons.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald will be starting their fourth years and Illinois' Ron Zook is embarking on his fifth season. That means the real veterans are Ohio State's Jim Tressel (ninth season), Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (11th season) and Penn State's Joe Paterno (44th season).

Ranking the Big Ten coaches:

1. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
The true measure of a man is how he responds to adversity. Ferentz has passed the test, pulling the Hawkeyes from a three-year slump to a 9-4 mark in 2008. Even better, Ferentz appears to have Iowa poised for another glorious run after leading the school to two Big Ten crowns from 2002-04. And Ferentz has done all of this with less-than-blue-chip talent.

2. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
Think round peg, square hole. That's the best way to describe Rich Rod's dubious and dreadful debut. We all know he's better than that. Witness the national power he built at West Virginia, where he amassed a 60-26 record and four Big East titles. It was painfully obvious the offensive personnel Rodriguez inherited in Ann Arbor were ill-suited to run his spread-option offense. That slowly will change as he fills the roster with his players. Then, look out.

3. Jim Tressel, Ohio State
Let's go ahead and bronze Tressel's sweater vest. He has won five Big Ten crowns and the 2002 BCS championship, and he played for two other BCS titles. He hasn't even been on the job for 10 seasons, but he's posted an 83-19 record in his time in Columbus. Not bad for a former Football Championship Subdivision (i.e., Division I-AA) coach.

4. Joe Paterno, Penn State
His recent success seemingly renders moot any notion JoePa should retire. He obviously still has it, coming off his second Big Ten title in four seasons. In fact, JoePa appears energized and healthy and primed to pad his lead as the all-time leader in Division I-A victories (383).

5. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
This all must seem so delicious for Dantonio. He followed a 7-6 debut with a sterling 9-4 record that had Sparty in Big Ten title contention late in the season. Dantonio's secret to success is simple: smart, tough, disciplined football built around defense. As long as he's in East Lansing, Michigan State will be an upper-division Big Ten challenger. And a conference title drought that stretches from 1990 figures to end soon.

6. Ron Zook, Illinois
Zook answered the critics who say he can't coach by leading the Fighting Illini to the Rose Bowl after the 2007 season. Zook is an unmatched recruiter who has built a strong staff, leading to a renaissance in facilities and attitudes in Champaign. Energy, enthusiasm and an ability to connect with players fuel Zook's success.

7. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
There are rumblings about how Wisconsin's record has gotten worse each season under Bielema, dropping from 12-1 to 9-4 to 7-6. Give the intense Bielema credit for altering his offseason approach, looking to connect better with the players and enhance their development. More than anything, Bielema needs a quarterback to emerge during this critical season in his career. Don't bet against the smart, hard-working Bielema getting the Badgers back on track.

8. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Cut him, and "Fitz" bleeds purple. Fitzgerald's coaching ability quickly is catching up to his energy and enthusiasm for his alma mater. At age 34, the best is yet to come for Fitzgerald. Each season in Evanston, Fitzgerald has improved the Wildcats' record, from 4-8 to 6-6 to last season's 9-4. The key question: Can Northwestern keep him?

9. Danny Hope, Purdue
No one will outhustle Hope, who is one of the most positive and enthusiastic people you'll meet. Those traits help make him one of America's most underrated recruiters. Hope was 35-22 in six seasons as coach at Eastern Kentucky. Watch his star rise.

10. Tim Brewster, Minnesota
Brewster has been a 1,000-watt charge of energy for a program that was growing stale. And from all indications, Brewster's recruiting hustle has improved the talent base. The christening of a new stadium will further buoy his cause. Brewster's Gophers teams have featured strong offenses, but it will be his ability to craft a decent defense that will determine his fortunes in the Twin Cities.

11. Bill Lynch, Indiana
He has one of the most extensive résumés in the Big Ten, having also been head coach at Ball State and DePauw. The problem? Lynch hasn't had much success, save for an 8-2 mark in 2004 at DePauw. Lynch went 37-53 at Ball State (1995-2002) and is 10-15 in two seasons in Bloomington. He failed to build on the momentum of a bowl trip following the 2007 season, going 3-9 last season. And things could be tough this fall, too.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Neal trying healthy approach

By Christopher L. Gasper

April 3, 2009

FOXBOROUGH - Stephen Neal started his career as the longest of long shots and now he finds himself as one of the longest-tenured Patriots.

A two-time NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion at Cal State-Bakersfield, Neal didn't play a down of college football, and joined the Patriots as a project in 2001. The team cut him coming out of training camp that year and he was on the Eagles' practice squad before the Patriots plucked him back in December of that season.

He has been a Patriot ever since.

The 32-year-old right guard is one of just six remaining Patriots to have been with the team for all three Super Bowl titles. The others are Tom Brady, Matt Light, Kevin Faulk, Tedy Bruschi, and Richard Seymour.

The self-effacing Neal was quick to point out that he was an inactive in 2001, the team's first Super Bowl title season, and on injured reserve following shoulder surgery in 2003, when it captured its second Lombardi Trophy, but he remains one of the great finds of the Bill Belichick era.

Shoulder injuries cost Neal three games in 2006 and eight games in 2007. Then he suffered a knee injury in Super Bowl XLII that caused him to open the 2008 season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. He sat out the first five games of last season.

Neal's goal this season is to play in every game, something he hasn't done since 2005. He already has a leg up from last year in the offseason conditioning program, as instead of rehabbing the knee he's working out with his offensive linemates.

"It's definitely a goal to try not to get injured, but you can't really control what happens," said Neal. "You just go out there and get your body in the best shape possible and improve from last year."

The Patriots, who rushed for 2,278 yards last season, the sixth-highest total in team history, were a better team on the ground with Neal available. In the 11 games (nine starts) Neal played in last year, the Patriots averaged 156.4 yards per game on the ground. In the five he missed, they averaged 111.6 yards rushing.

Maybe that's why the Patriots seem to be amenable to carrying his scheduled $3.4 million cap charge for 2009, the final year of Neal's contract.

Neal was not interested in looking at what his football future might hold, although he left the door open to the idea that this might be his final season if he continued to grapple with injuries.

"I guess football is day to day as you know, and [I] just take everything one day at a time and try to improve every day in this offseason and then when the season comes just see how my body can hold up," said Neal, who is entering his eighth season. "[Then] at the end of this season see where I'm at then and decide if I'm going to keep going or what the options are. Everything is pretty much day to day."

Neal's career has become something of an inspiration to other football players with wrestling backgrounds.

Neal said his role model was former Steelers offensive lineman Carlton Haselrig, a six-time NCAA wrestling champion at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown who never played college football but earned a Pro Bowl berth in 1992.

Neal said anyone looking to him as inspiration is allowing him to carry on Haselrig's legacy, which Neal said was "a pretty cool thing."

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Tom O'Brien one of top three head football coaches in ACC

March 24, 2009

By Tom Dienhart

Seven of the 12 ACC coaches have been at their current jobs two years or less, and the heavy turnover in recent seasons has hurt the conference. That general instability has contributed to the league not being a factor in the BCS title chase of late. What's more, the league will undergo even more turnover in the next few years, with coaches-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher (Florida State) and James Franklin (Maryland) taking over at their respective schools.

But the ACC still boasts some of the nation's best coaches, headed by Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, North Carolina State's Tom O'Brien, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson and North Carolina's Butch Davis.

Here's how they stack up:

1. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Let's just go ahead and say, it because it's true -- Grobe is great. Somehow, some way, he has made Demon Deacons football relevant on a national level. In eight seasons in Winston-Salem, Grobe has gone 54-44 -- he's 28-12 the past three seasons -- with four bowl appearances, including three in a row. His run to the ACC title and Orange Bowl in the 2006 season stands as one of the greatest coaching feats in the past 25 years. It's no wonder schools such as Arkansas, Nebraska and Alabama (among others) have made runs at Grobe.

2. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Beamer is an icon. He's led the program to elite status and is enjoying sustained success. He did it all by giving the program a personality and persona known as "Beamerball," which emphasizes the running game, defense and special teams. It's difficult to believe Beamer was in danger of losing his job entering the 1993 season, having posted a middling 24-40-2 record his first six seasons in Blacksburg. Since then, Tech hasn't missed the postseason, has won six league titles and played for the national title after the 1999 season. He is 176-89-2 in 22 years in Blacksburg.

3. Tom O'Brien, N.C. State
There are few better coaches in the nation than the perpetually underrated O'Brien, who thrives on running a smart, disciplined program. He was 75-45 at Boston College from 1997-2006. Unappreciated in Chestnut Hill, O'Brien is starting to turn around the Wolfpack, going 11-14 in his first two years. He was at his best last fall, when he rallied the Wolfpack from a 2-6 start to four consecutive victories and a bowl trip. Expect a breakout this fall.

4. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
We all owe Johnson a "thank you" for injecting a mega-dose of fun into college football with his triple-option offense. It turns out what is old is new again -- and effective. Johnson led the Yellow Jackets to a 9-4 record and Peach Bowl appearance in his first season on the Flats. The questions: How soon before other schools copy Johnson's offense? And when will he deliver his first ACC crown?

5. Butch Davis, North Carolina
Every ACC team's worst nightmare looks like it's about to come to fruition: The Tar Heels are rising -- fast. Thank Davis, who started paying immediate dividends as a recruiter. Now, Davis is working with a loaded roster that is gaining experience. UNC went 4-8 in Davis' first season and 8-4 in 2008. The next stop: an ACC title. Davis is an excellent motivator and leader who has built a good staff led by offensive coordinator John Shoop.

6. Bobby Bowden, Florida State
Saint Bobby's glorious run in Tallahassee should be ending in a blaze of glory. Instead, Bowden finds himself fighting to be relevant in what most consider a mediocre conference. Bowden trusted the wrong people at the wrong time, which is why FSU is still digging itself out of this morass. And it's also why Bowden likely won't catch Joe Paterno as major-college football's career wins king. But Bowden deserves plaudits for acquiescing to a succession plan.

7. Al Groh, Virginia
One of the most successful descendants of Bill Parcells' coaching tree, Groh has made the Cavaliers a consistently successful program during his eight-year run in Charlottesville. But Groh has been unable to get the Cavs over the top and deliver an ACC championship in eight years on the job and finds himself on the hot seat.

8. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
Retirement is drawing near for "The Fridge," who has three years left on his contract. Until then, Friedgen is looking to cap his career in College Park with a flourish. He has been unable to recapture the magic of his Maryland debut in 2001, when he led the Terps to the ACC title and an Orange Bowl berth. Back-to-back second-place finishes followed. Since then, the program has been mired in mediocrity. No doubt, a fresh approach may be just what is needed.

9. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Yes, his Durham debut produced just a 4-8 mark (1-7 in the ACC), but there were tangible signs of progress for Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe is an offensive mastermind who proved he could coach during a successful six-year run at Ole Miss that produced a 44-29 record (25-23 in the SEC) and four bowls. The true measure of success will be if he also can build a good defense.

10. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney auditioned for the job last fall when he took over for Tommy Bowden with seven games remaining. Swinney guided the Tigers to a 4-3 record and a berth in the Gator Bowl, which was enough to get him the full-time gig. Swinney went on to sign a strong collection of recruits while also overhauling the staff.

11. Randy Shannon, Miami
The jury is out on Shannon, who is still learning on the job. Shannon faces pressure as he enters his third season in Coral Gables, and he'll do so with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. The good news: Shannon has recruited as well as anyone in the ACC the past few years. He's the ultimate player's coach who has restored discipline and honor.

12. Frank Spaziani, Boston College
If you're scoring at home, this is three coaches in four seasons for BC. Following the Jeff Jagodzinski fiasco, look for Spaziani to remain in Chestnut Hill as long as the Eagles want him. He's a BC guy, having been on the staff since 1997. Spaziani has never been a head coach before, but the longtime defensive coordinator learned under one of the best in O'Brien. It still remains to be seen how Spaziani will perform on Saturdays.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

SI's NFL Team Draft Choices

From Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarerback," March 30, 2009

Team (Top-100 picks) Overall choices.

1. New England (6) 23, 34, 47, 58, 89, 97.
Strategy: Look for the Pats to trade one of their three second-rounders -- and, if need be, a later pick -- for some team's 2010 first-rounder.

2. New York Giants (5) 29, 45, 60, 91, 100.
Strategy: Unless they can deal for either Braylon Edwards or Anquan Boldin, the Jints will use one of the first three picks on a receiver.

3. Miami (4) 25, 44, 56, 87.
Strategy: Bill Parcells went to see North Carolina wideout Hakeem Nicks the other day, underscoring how desperate they are to get a Ted Ginn bookend.

4. Minnesota (3) 22, 54, 86.
Strategy: The right side of the offensive line is a concern, as is receiver and youth on the defensive line.

5. Atlanta (3) 24, 55, 90.
Strategy: His freshman draft shows GM Thomas Dimitroff will make a trade to chase a player he really wants. If only Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo were gettable.

6. Baltimore (3) 26, 57, 88
Strategy: Corner, receiver. Receiver, corner. Ozzie Newsome's getting the best of both available at some time in the first three rounds.

7. Indianapolis (3) 27, 61, 92
Strategy: Colts always go by the book and take the best player at need positions. There's a slot receiver with Bill Polian's name on him: Ohio State's Brian Hartline.

8. Tennessee (3) 30, 62, 94
Strategy: If the Titans don't get Torry Holt in bargain-basement free-agency, they'll join the club of good teams yearning for a receiver in the first or second round.

9. Pittsburgh (3) 32, 64, 96
Strategy:Bryant McFadden took his physical cover skills to Arizona, and the Steelers will want a cover guy with the first or second pick.

10. Carolina (2) 59, 93
Strategy:Jeff Otah is this year's first-rounder; that's how the Panthers have to look at their '09 draft. Don't be surprised if the Patriots and Panthers deal.

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