This Round’s on Me

This is it? I don’t know, I guess I just always thought my first column would be more … romantic. Isn’t your first supposed to be special? Well I guess this could have been special, had the main character of this tale actually called me back. But that would be totally out of character for a guy like Liam Ezekiel. The same “team leader” who knocked his own kicker unconscious with two games remaining in the 2004 season.

Now, instead of celebrating the guy who still has a chance to be a Northeastern legend one day, I will be forced to come at his head.

I’m not one to dwell on athletes’ characters because I’d rather view them as emotionless pieces of a puzzle so I can still enjoy watching them play, however, Ezekiel has had this coming for a long time. But rather than start with the reasons he won’t make it in the NFL — the Division I-AA all-time leading tackler signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent last Thursday –�I’ll show my objective nature and point out the factors he has going for him.

Although the odds are stacked against him as an undrafted free agent, in actuality, not getting drafted may have been his best shot at making it into the NFL.

I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Very rarely do NFL exec’s draft players they envision as key contributors in the sixth and seventh round. Normally they are just looking to fill out their rosters, and more often than not, those picks won’t even make the team.

As a rookie free agent Ezekiel at least had a chance to gauge the interest of a few different teams and the option to sign with the team he and his agent, Joe Linta, felt he had a good chance of making.

Now I know the linebacker has made some questionable decisions over the last few years — transferring from the Big East’s West Virginia (three Mountaineers were selected in the first five rounds of this year’s draft) and knocking out his own kicker, just to name a few — but signing with Linta could annul his previous mistakes.

With more than 45 current NFL players as his clients, Linta has his fair share of experience in pro football. That’s why he hooked Ezekiel up with the Bills, a team that had four undrafted free agents on their opening day roster at the start of last season, the most of any NFL team.

Not only do the Bills have a track record of undrafted free agents on their roster, but two of their starting linebackers are arguably some of the best undrafted backers in the NFL. Jeff Posey and London Fletcher both have played eight years in the NFL after going undrafted when they finished their collegiate careers, and both could probably start on pretty much any NFL team’s defense that doesn’t play its home games in Baltimore.

So it seems Linta found the perfect team for Ezekiel to try and earn a roster spot on; however, before you go out and buy your very own Liam Ezekiel Buffalo Bills jersey, there are quite a few large obstacles he will have to overcome if he wants to prolong his dream of playing in the NFL — and I’m not even gonna mention the fact he is unathletic, slow, undersized and not agile (oops). While the Bills might be the perfect fit for an undrafted free agent, no NFL team is a perfect fit for a Division I-AA player, as only 9.9 percent of the 2,223 players in the NFL last year were from I-AA schools.

Sure there have been some great players in the NFL that played their college ball at the I-AA level, but they are clearly the exception. For every Brian Westbrook or Jerry Rice — both I-AA success stories — there have been thousands of failures. To add insult to injury there are currently only 20 linebackers in the NFL hailing from I-AA schools.

This trend is not without justification. The reason why no students will go to NU football games is the same reason NFL scouts don’t give I-AA stats any weight; the reason you ask? It’s horrible football. I’m talking along the same lines as high school football … in Alaska. Offensive linemen and wide receivers are the most common I-AA players in the NFL, with 38 and 32 respectively, because their positions depend a lot on the player’s size, agility and speed — things that don’t change depending on what school you attend.

Another factor is Ezekiel’s maturity, or lack-there-of. The 22-year-old turned an on-field scuffle with a teammate into a career marring controversy when he knocked out Husky kicker Miro Kesic in the locker room in the waning weeks of the 2004 season. Instead of sticking up for himself when asked for his side of the story he refused to call me back (surprise, surprise), even though I stated in the eight messages I left him that I thought someone that has been such a great athlete for NU deserves to have their side of the story told (again, oops). Rather than man-up and call me himself, he got someone else to call me from an anonymous number and simply say, “You’ve got the whole Ezekiel story wrong.”

I told her that I needed more than an anonymous caller saying the story was wrong to discredit what numerous witnesses told me on the record. So what did she do? She hung up on me.

Regardless of who it was, the fact is he had someone else try and get him out of a mess he started and now he hates The News for printing an objective story about an incident that occurred on NU property … here at The Northeastern News we call writing those stories our job.

Hopefully Ezekiel will grow up after banging heads with a few NFL vets in mini camps these next few months because, although it’s pretty obvious I don’t like the kid, I don’t hold grudges, and I really do want him to succeed. I’m a huge fan of underdogs and if he makes it in the NFL it can only help our struggling football program.