Thursday, May 08, 2014

Combine lifted Williamson’s draft stock, with UK assist

By Kyle Tucker

May 7, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Most of his life, Henry Williamson has been called by his name. These days, with a son expected to be selected in this week’s NFL Draft, he answers to something else around town in Milan, Tenn.

“I went to the eye doctor the other day and the lady asked me, ‘You Avery Williamson’s father?’ I said, ‘Yes, I sure I am.’ It’s been exciting,” Henry said. “People are always asking about him, talking about him. Some of them don’t even know me. But they know him.”

Williamson, an All-SEC linebacker last season at the University of Kentucky, will be back home in Tennessee the next three days to watch the draft and wait for his life to change. He won’t go in tonight’s first round and it would be a surprise if he’s taken in the second or third rounds Friday, but after a dazzling performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, his stock has significantly improved.

Once a fringe prospect, he’s now almost certain to be selected.

“It’s just so crazy. I’ve watched the draft since I was little — watched guys get their names called — and I’m going to be a part of that now. It’s mind-blowing. I still can’t believe it,” Williamson said. “We’re going to cook out and watch the TV — and keep my phone charged.”

He’ll gather with family and friends at home Saturday, the day he’s widely projected to be picked somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds. Before the combine, where he measured 6-foot-1, 246 pounds with an impressive 7 percent body fat and ranked top 10 among all linebackers in five major physical tests, Williamson was a projected seventh-rounder or undrafted free agent.

“It was the world’s difference,” he said of his combine performance. “I was really under the radar, and putting up good times and numbers, that really showed that I’m one of the top guys in the linebacker class this year. That makes me look a lot better and gives them more reason to put me higher on their draft board.

“I can’t really say (who), but I can say a lot of teams have been calling. A lot of teams.”

Williamson’s agent is Neil Cornrich, who represents several NFL players as well as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Texans coach Bill O’Brien — not to mention Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops, brother of UK coach Mark Stoops. Cornrich said Williamson’s stock “increased exponentially” after the combine.

While he’d racked up 237 tackles the last two seasons, playing in the mighty Southeastern Conference no less, there were questions about Williamson’s speed, quickness and explosiveness. He answered those by posting the combine’s third-fastest shuttle run (4.07), sixth-fastest 40-yard dash (4.66), eighth-most reps on the 225-pound bench press (25) and ninth-best broad jump (10 feet) at his position. Winner of UK’s “Mr. Wildcat” award for all-round excellence in athletics, academics, character and service, Williamson also reportedly nailed his interviews. now rates him the No. 8 inside linebacker available in the draft.

“They found out he was very fast, very smart and a very nice person,” Cornrich said. “It’s very rare that someone is so gifted in all those areas. A number of teams brought him in for individual visits. Those types of visits are usually reserved for really very good players. When he goes on visits to places where I have friends in those organizations, they all call back and go, ‘Wow, what a solid guy.’

“He has demonstrated that he possesses the characteristics to play 10 years in the NFL.”

But many teams might never have noticed if not for his standout combine performance. Williamson, his father and his agent say he owes that to Erik Korem and Corey Edmond, who run the cutting-edge “High Performance” program at Kentucky — a non-traditional strength-and-conditioning program head coach Mark Stoops installed when he took over the program last year.

“They did a spectacular job” with Williamson, Cornrich said. “If there were people better than those guys, we would hire them.”

Many agents push their clients to training facilities around the country — Florida, California and Arizona are popular spots — to prepare for the combine. One agent who recruited Williamson wanted him to relocate to Miami for workouts.

“I told him I didn’t think that would be a wise idea to go down there when he had training right there at Kentucky,” said his father. “After he stayed — and he could get his education and all that — he said he was real glad we made that decision. Kentucky really brought him a long ways. They really helped develop him.”

Now Williamson, whose only other scholarship offers coming out of high school were from Arkansas State and New Mexico, is on the cusp of becoming an NFL draft pick. And Henry Williamson has become Avery’s Dad around town.

“It’s something that we really hadn’t expected,” Henry said. “It’s just something we were hoping for. It’s a dream come true.”

Morris looks for NFL opportunity

From Scott Dochterman's "Morris looks for NFL opportunity"

May 7, 2014

Iowa linebacker James Morris (right) knocks the ball loose from Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III (12) during the second half of their game at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, in Lincoln, Neb. The fumble was recovered by Iowa defensive lineman Louis Trinca-Pasat. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

IOWA CITY — James Morris’ on-field accolades at Iowa will earn him an NFL opportunity this weekend. But more than his statistics, it’s his intangibles that will entice an NFL team to offer the former Iowa linebacker a chance of a lifetime.

“All it takes is one team to like him,” said Dan Shonka, general manager and national scout for Ourlads Scouting Services. “You talk to him and you see how smart he is, a lot of teams are really impressed with his intelligence and his instincts on the field.”

Morris is one of several Iowa players vying for a chance at the NFL, which has its draft today through Saturday. Most analysts consider Morris, a former star at Solon and a second-team all-Big Ten linebacker last year, a mid-round pick. Shonka lists Morris as a fifth- or sixth-round selection.

No one questions Morris’ toughness, leadership or his technique. He stands 6 feet and weighs 241 pounds so his body type is comparable to most inside linebackers. But what also stands out for Morris is his intellect. He was named a first-team academic All-American the College Sports Information Directors of America and a National Scholar-Athlete by the National Football Foundation. He carries a 3.84 grade-point-average and will graduate next week.

When you add up 400 career tackles, eight sacks last year, his academic prowess and his leadership, that’s a solid foundation for any organization.

“I feel like I’m a really good football player,” Morris said. “So I think I’ll be able to contribute on the field in a variety of ways, whether that’s special teams or the starting lineup or whatever kind of package there is. Off the field I’m somebody you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble. I feel like I have pretty high character.”

Morris started 42 games at Iowa, mostly at middle linebacker. He may adjust roles depending on what team drafts him along with its scheme.

“Ideally a 3-4 team would like him on the inside,” Shonka said. “I don’t know if he’s got enough mass to be the middle linebacker in a 4-3 in the NFL. But certainly if he plays in those shade-under fronts, and he plays in the 3-4 where he’d be covered up, he’ll be waiting at the path for people. He’s real instinctive and smart and he’ll play on all special teams. Coaches want a guy who can learn quickly and he certainly can do that.

“He’s going to make a team, I’m convinced of that.”

Monday, May 05, 2014

An underdog and dancing bear: Meet Jamie Meder, the Ashland lineman and Parma native who could go in the 2014 NFL Draft

By Doug Lesmerises

May 4, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Pro days can be a circus, college football players put on stage for NFL talent evaluators, and the bearded 300-pound man working out alone at the end of Ohio State’s Pro Day in early March was a curiosity.

He wasn’t a Buckeye. But Jamie Meder was someone scouts wanted to see.

“He’s probably the strongest kid I’ve ever been around,” Ashland University defensive coordinator Tim Rose, a college coach for 35 years, including for 29 years at nine different FBS schools, would say later. “And he’s really more athletic than you think he is.
He’s not super fast and he runs a little bit high, but he’s really a big dancing bear kind of guy.”

One who can bench press 515 pounds. And one, who after four years dominating the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in Division II college football, could wind up getting picked in the NFL Draft this week.

A Parma native and 2009 graduate of Valley Forge High School, Meder could have been a major college football player out of high school, but he didn’t qualify academically.

“I was just being a dumb teenager and putting too much focus into sports when I should have been putting it on grades as well,” Meder said.

A semester at Cuyahoga Community College helped get him on track and he wound up at Ashland, “the only school that didn’t give up on me.”

He made All-GLIAC as a freshman and sophomore and as a junior and senior was named the conference’s best defensive lineman. That alone won’t have 20-plus NFL teams stopping by your practices during your senior season to check you out, as Meder had in the fall.

“He’s been highly scrutinized,” Rose said.

But at 6-foot-2 and 293 pounds when he was at Ohio State’s workout, with good feet and a bench press that maxed out at 515 pounds, Meder has a package of skills as a defensive tackle that lift him out of the pack.

“He has football intelligence and awareness that translate well to the NFL level,” draft analyst Dane Brugler said. “He’s country strong and stout with a try-hard attitude that will endear him to pro coaches.”

The draft is no sure thing. Brugler ranks Meder as the No. 33 defensive tackle in his draft guide, in the range that could find him as a late-round pick or a free agent. But he’ll get a shot at the league one way or the other. Meder knows the names of small-school Ohio players who have made it, listing Mount Union receivers Pierre Garcon (sixth-round pick in 2008) and Cecil Shorts (fourth-round pick in 2011) and London Fletcher, the linebacker from John Carroll who became a Pro Bowler after going undrafted in 1998.

The NFL will find players anywhere. At Ashland, the Eagles had defensive lineman Jeris Pendleton drafted in the seventh round two years. Also out of the GLIAC, Hillsdale offensive tackle Jared Veldheer went in the third round in 2010 and Grand Valley State receiver Charles Johnson was drafted in the seventh round last year.

Ashland defensive tackle Jamie Meder was twice named the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference defensive lineman of the year.Courtesy of Tom E. Puskar/ Ashland University

“I think he’s going to be an interior NFL defensive lineman,” Rose said. “He’s able to hold up against most double teams and he just manhandled some of the offensive linemen we faced. Not everybody, but he’s just really strong and has great leverage. He can sort things out in that gap and defeat the double team. Of course we’re biased to our own players, but I think he’s going to be drafted and on a roster somewhere.”

Just after his workout at Ohio State, Meder admitted he felt like “an underdog” going through drills at the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. He put up 33 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press that day in the OSU weight room, which would have ranked third among defensive linemen at the NFL Combine. But Meder wasn’t thrilled with the result.

“I should have done better,” he said.
“I was a little nervous in this atmosphere.”

Meder also played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl after the season, invited to that postseason all-star game that included players from FBS schools from all over the country. Just before that game, he got a text from Valley Forge head coach Jamie Vanek that read, “You belong here.”

Meder’s takeaway from that experience?

“It just made me an even bigger believer in myself,” Meder said. “I just felt like I actually belonged, that I could do this.”

On day three of the NFL Draft on Saturday, when rounds four through seven are conducted, Meder could have that feeling again.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Burkhead, Team Jack hold online auction for Brain Cancer Awareness Month

May 1, 2014

The month of May is National Brain Cancer Awareness Month and the Team Jack Foundation continues to make efforts to raise awareness.

Plano Senior alum and current Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead has been instrumental in the foundation’s rise and devotion to the cause of combating pediatric brain cancer. The former Wildcat is encouraging all to join him in taking a stand against it.

Team Jack will be holding an online auction for the duration of the month, where items like an autographed Burkhead Bengals jersey or a Team Jack football autographed by Burkhead and Jack Hoffman, an 8-year-old boy currently battling brain cancer, will be available for bidding.

All active, registered bidders will receive a free Take A Stand Team Jack t-shirt. Sale proceeds will support research for pediatric brain cancer.

To participate in the auction, go to

Iowa's Morris and Stribos Earn Big Ten Medal of Honor

The nation's oldest collegiate conference commemorates the 100th anniversary of a very unique tradition - the Big Ten Medal of Honor

May 1, 2014

Rosemont, Ill. -

As the Big Ten continues to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Big Ten Medal of Honor, senior student-athletes James Morris and Marike Stribos were named the 2013-14 Big Ten Medal of Honor recipients for the University of Iowa, which were announced at the UI's annual academic and athletic achievement banquet. Morris is a standout on the football team, while Stribos is a member of Iowa’s field hockey team.

The conference's most exclusive award was the first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics to recognize academic and athletic excellence. The Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work."

Big Ten schools currently feature more than 8,200 student-athletes, but only 24 earn this prestigious award on an annual basis. In the 99 years of the Medal of Honor, over 1,300 student-athletes have earned this distinction.

Former Hawkeye field hockey player and Iowa's 1988 female Big Ten Medal of Honor winner Liz Tchou served as the banquet's keynote speaker. Tchou was a four-time All-Big Ten first team selection who led the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Championship in 1986. She was named first team All-America in 1987 and was selected as a member of the 1987 NCAA All-Tournament team. A two-time Big Ten Conference MVP, she was the first Hawkeye female to have her number retired. Following her Hawkeye career, she played for the U.S. Women's National Team for seven years (1989-93, 1995) and was a member of the 1996 Olympic Team and the 1994 U.S. World Cup team. Tchou was inducted into the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.

Morris, from Solon, Iowa, recently completed his playing career as the Hawkeyes concluded the 2013 season with an 8-5 overall record following their appearance in the 2014 Outback Bowl. He moved into Iowa's starting lineup early in his freshman season and started 42 career games. Morris totaled 400 career tackles, ranking sixth on Iowa's career chart. Morris ranked second on the team with 107 tackles in 2013. He earned second team All-Big Ten honors and was the Iowa recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. Morris led the Hawkeyes in sacks (8), tackles for loss (18) and interceptions (4), becoming the first linebacker to lead Iowa in interceptions since the stat was first kept in 1986.

A political science major with a 3.87 grade point average, Morris was named to the 2014 Capital One Academic All-America first team. He earned a $7,500 NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship and was named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete. A three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, Morris was one of four finalists for the Lott Trophy and one of 12 finalists for the Wuerffel Trophy.

Stribos, who hails from Brussels, Belgium, played in 79 career games, with 76 career starts during her Hawkeye career. She posted 13 goals and 42 points as a midfielder/back. Stribos earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in all three years that she was eligible and has twice earned the Big Ten Conference Distinguished Scholar Award. A four-time NFHCA National Academic Squad member, she earned NFHCA First Team West Region All-America honors and was a second team All-Big Ten selection as a junior. She is a double major in finance and management with a 3.89 grade point average.

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