Terry Beckner Jersey

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Who is this guy?

Coming out of high school in East St. Louis, Illinois, Terry Beckner Jr. was touted as the top defensive prospect in the country and No. 2 recruit overall according to ESPN. As a senior, he tallied 117 total tackles, 75 of which were solo (yes, as a defensive tackle) and had four sacks in 12 games. It led to 20 offers from Division I schools but settled on Missouri, not too terribly far from home.

His career at Mizzou got off to a great start, until it didn’t. Beckner suffered back-to-back knee injuries following his freshman year, where he earned First-Team Freshman All-American honors and was named to the All-SEC Freshman team after playing in 10 games with five starts. His season ended early when he tore his ACL and MCL against BYU in November of that year. Faced with the first major injury of his career, he went into rehab with the Tigers and made his return the following season. Only, this time his season would end just seven weeks in, suffering another ACL tear in his opposite knee.

His first fully healthy season came in 2017 as a junior where he bottled up the interior of the Tigers’ defensive line and was masterful against the run. He started all 13 games for Mizzou, posting 38 total tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks and even grabbed an interception. He returned to school for his senior year and again started all 13 of the Tigers’ games. He earned Second-Team All-SEC honors and led all Tiger tackles with 34 tackles and a team-high 11.0 tackles for loss, his second such season with those numbers. He led a defensive unit that ranked 22 nationally in stopping the run before then declaring for the NFL Draft.

The Buccaneers took him with their seventh-round pick, rounding out a class where six of eight players taken came on the defensive side of the ball. Beckner was the only interior lineman taken and will compete for an inside spot in the Bucs’ flexible 3-4 defense.

What are they saying about him?

Bucs’ General Manager Jason Licht:

“Terry went through some adversity there early in his career with knee injuries. One on each side. Then he’s played I think 26 consecutive games now, two years in a row. He’s really tough. Love the kid, love the grit that he has where he’s grown up in East St. Louis. You know, it’d be tough for me to walk a day in his shoes with some of the things he’s had to go through. He’s an awesome kid. Smart, instinctive player. He’s strong. I like the way he plays. He’s going to compete. I know he’s got a good chance of making this football team if he plays the way he did at Missouri and how we evaluated him.”

Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles:

“Any time you get new toys it’s exciting at Christmas, so it’s how you use them the right way and how they fit in with the other guys that’ll tell a story, but you like having the guys that you have.”

What can this guy do?

General Manager Jason Licht mentioned how not only smart Beckner is, but how strong and instinctive he is at the same time.
The strength comes from his size, standing at 6-4 and weighing in just under 300 pounds, he’s what you’d call stout, which probably helps in his run-blocking ability. His lateral movement also comes in handy for running backs trying to escape to the outside. In the video above, you see him immediately disengage from his blocker at the goal line to bounce all the way outside against Florida and meet the running back behind the line of scrimmage, preventing a touchdown. That play is two-fold. Not only do players his size not usually have the quickness or speed to physically get outside from an interior spot like that, but many players lack the play recognition and football IQ to understand where the running back is going, especially from the front where you have split-seconds to react.

Just check out the play at 1:34 in the above game against Florida. It’s Beckner that ends up getting to the running back, blowing past the guard and getting into the backfield immediately. From there he’s able to catch up to the back and bring him down from behind. That’s pretty incredible for an interior defensive lineman.

That brings me to his ball awareness. More than the play recognition, Beckner seems to always know where the ball is and he’s always looking to make a play on it. Not only did he grab an interception in his first season back from injury in 2017 against Vanderbilt, but he’s recorded multiple pass breakups in his career. Watching his highlights, you always see his eyes in the direction of the ball – even when he’s engaged with a blocker.

He’s not completely absolved from the effects of his knee injuries. He’s got some tightness in his lower body and seems to let his upper body do a lot of the work. But it doesn’t stop him from making some extremely agile plays. Granted, the above highlight reel and game against Florida is a small sample size but even when you watch full games on this guy, he has a spin move that he uses to disengage quite often. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an interior lineman use a spin move like that as much as Beckner is able to use it. It’s probably because most interior tackles don’t have the footwork capability to do it. In my eyes, that makes me less concerned with his injury history and apparent resulting lower body tightness.

Scott Miller Jersey

Scott Miller
Barrington graduate Scott Miller (1) put up impressive numbers at Bowling Green, the only FBS program to offer him a scholarship. (John Konstantaras / Chicago Tribune)

Scott Miller was stuck in limbo.

After four productive seasons at wide receiver for Bowling Green, the Barrington graduate started to get antsy on the third day of the NFL draft. Miller wasn’t invited to the NFL combine, but after catching 71 passes for 1,148 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior and finishing the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds at his pro day, he expected to be drafted.

Miller watched the draft with his family and close friends. When the sixth round began with his name still on the board, Miller wanted a break.

“Everything was up in the air,” Miller said. “I thought I was a day three guy. We thought maybe the fourth or fifth round based on conversations.

“When wide receivers started flying off the board, I started getting frustrated. It had been such a long day. I was sitting there for four hours. I thought at that point I wasn’t going to be drafted and would be going the free agent route.”

Soon enough, Miller’s phone rang with a number from the Tampa Bay area. Miller was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the sixth round with the 208th overall pick.

“I was just sitting there and my phone rang, and it was the general manager of the Buccaneers. And he said, ‘We have a need for speed’ to me,” Miller recalled. “I couldn’t believe it happened. I thought someone was playing a trick on me. It was so crazy. I’ve been overlooked my whole life. To get drafted is so special.”

At 5-foot-11 and 166 pounds, Miller doesn’t check many of the physical boxes that most NFL teams look for in wide receivers. Miller said the Buccaneers did send two coaches to his pro day, but he didn’t hear from them during the draft leading up to his selection.

Matt Gay Jersey

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Who is this guy?

Yes, the Bucs took a kicker in the fifth round, but it happened to be a kicker that they had as the best prospect at the position in the draft. Utah’s Matt Gay is known just as much for his big leg as he is for his accuracy, a combination you don’t see too terribly often. He won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s best kicker, in his first season with the Utes in 2017. He earned the award after a season that saw him go a perfect 40-for-40 on point-after attempts and make 30 of 34 field goals on the season, his long being a 56-yarder.

He followed up his first season with another perfect record in extra points, going 45-for-45 this time in 2018. He also made 26 of 31 field goals, the most of any kicker in the country. He was responsible for a total of 253 points during his two-year Utah career and owns an 86.2 field goal percentage in that span. He earned two consecutive consensus All-American honors as well as being named All-Pac-12 in both his years in the conference.

Prior to becoming a kicker, Gay played soccer for Utah Valley College, where he led the team with seven goals as a freshman. He played one season at kicker for his high school’s football team, hitting a long of 54 yards.

I got a chance to see Gay at the East-West Shrine Game this offseason and even made remarks on him in my standouts from the week of practices. Gay nailed the only field goal in the game itself (a 47-yarder) but in the week of practices he was drilling 60+ yarders like it was nothing. There was a buzz around this guy that week. His kicks echoed in the Trop (ok, ok so does everything) and you couldn’t help but pay attention. He also attracted glances because of his size. He’s a big kid with a big leg and that’s what the Bucs like about him.

What are they saying about him?

Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht:

“He’s a big guy with a big leg and he’s also accurate. Those are a lot of good things that we like about him. He kicks in Utah but he’s also good at sea level. He can kick it far at sea level as well. We liked him as a person and we think he’s a very confident guy. We’ve exhausted everything we can to try to find a kicker and we’ll continue to, like every other position.”

“He’s got a strong leg. Usually, those strong-legged guys that can kick it from a far distance have some accuracy issues. This guy has not so far.”

Kicking coach Chris Boniol:

“My history in coaching, when I was in Dallas, it’s always been go get a free agent and let’s make the best of it with the most competitive guys you can get. That is a luxury. I think it speaks of his ability and his potential. There are some things I like about him. He’s got good size, good strength. He’s played in elements. Playing at Raymond James Stadium, there is the element of wind, everybody talks about. There’s rain. And when you have wind, there’s a few key things that you have to do. You have to strike the ball pure, you have to have a good ball strike, good rotation, but you also have to have some velocity to get the ball through the uprights before the wind has a chance to affect it. So, having a little juice in your leg is an important factor. I like the fact that he’s played in elements and he’s a big, strong kid.

What can he do?

Yeah, so I’m not going to pretend to know how to breakdown kicking mechanics. Even Boniol said in his press conference that his job as a kicking coach in the NFL isn’t about teaching guys how to kick – it’s about teaching them how to be a pro and being more of a mentor than anything. Gay has hit some special kicks though in his career and below are a few of them. He broke the Pac-12 record for most kicks made in a single season in the first video during the Utes’ bowl game. He had a total of 30 that season.

The next season, he tallied the most field goals in the country again but fell short of his record set the year before with 26. He did, however, earn Special Teams Player of the Week in the below video in which he starts by nailing a 49 and 48-yarder back-to-back. And makes it look easy.

How can he fit in?

Gay was brought in under a head coach who knows kickers. Bruce Arians’ son Jake was an NFL kicker, so I’d like to think this family understands not only what makes a good kicker, but what kind of person you need to be to be successful at the NFL level. It seems that’s what they saw in Gay. General Manager Jason Licht said it’s still a competition between Gay and Cairo Santos, who came in the middle of last season to help the Bucs’ kicking woes. This staff wants to breed competition at every position, including on special teams. It’s the same sentiment Boniol mentioned in his press conference as well. The two will ‘kick it out’ in training camp this summer and we’ll see who ends up winning out.

Mike Edwards Jersey

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CINCINNATI – Mike Edwards started the biggest week of his football life with visits to three of his favorite hometown places.

The safety from Winton Woods High School and the University of Kentucky took the big step to the NFL in the third round of the draft Friday, and what better way to go down that path than with new Air Jordans?

“Jordan’s got the best shoes hands down,” said Edwards, who estimates he has 40 pairs of Jordans and about 100 pairs of shoes all together.

He concedes it’s an addiction.

“Feels like my first pair of shoes – every time,” he said.

Edwards left Corporate, the sneaker store at Hyde Park Square, with the gray Jordan 13s.

There’s no telling which pair he wore to greet the Tampa Bay Bucs staff after they drafted him with the 36th pick in the third round.

SEE Edwards’ draft profile at NFL.com.

Next stop was Forest Park and the embrace of his high school coaches. Edwards became coach Andre Parker’s first NFL draft pick.

Parker recalled that Edwards always wore a smile.

“You could be yelling or angry at Mike, he’s gonna greet you with a smile. He’s that kid you’d try to punish for goofing off in class and he’s smiling while he’s running,” Parker said.

Edwards remembered the exhausting running he had to do in high school.

“I never had no workouts like that,” Edwards said, calling Parker’s even more grueling than at UK.

“He’s not the only one who says that,” said Parker.

Edwards was one of the first elite prospects to buy into building a legacy at UK. He shunned offers from Wisconsin and West Virginia to play at 2-10 Kentucky.

“He changed the culture. Changed the people,” Parker said. “He wasn’t a bandwagon guy. He put the bricks down.”

Last stop was Escapades in Springdale, a beauty and hair shop where Edwards’ money is no good. His dad, aunt and cousin all work there.

“It’s great. Don’t have to pay for it for one thing,” Edwards laughed.

Of course, the discussion quickly turns to the topic of hair – and specifically Edwards’ blonde badger look and how long he’ll have it.

Edwards’ dad makes it clear that there’s more to his son than football.

“He always gives back and that’s what makes me most proud. Hasn’t forgotten where he came from,” he said.

Anthony Nelson Jersey

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Anthony Nelson wasn’t the edge rusher some fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers eyed players like Josh Allen or Montez Sweat for their team, but he’s the one they got, and one PFF measure specifically hints that they may have gotten more than they realize.

In 2018, Nelson had the highest pass-rush win percentage in the Big Ten. He and Chase Winovich were the only two to have percentages north of 20%.

What this means is, 23.5% of the time Nelson rushed the passer he beat his opponent, but didn’t necessarily cause pressure due to quick passes mostly. Still, never blame a guy for winning fast. This measurable differs from other pressure stats, because not all pressures are created equal. In order to register a pass-rush win, Nelson had to beat his blocker during their initial engagement, not on the second or third move.

If you’re looking for an NFL comparison, Aaron Donald had a pass-rush win percentage of 25.9% last season.

No. I’m not saying Nelson will get near the production Donald does, especially in his rookie season.

We’re talking ceiling here, and if Nelson can develop in the league to the point where he learns how to use his physical tools to win similarly to the way he did in college, then his ceiling certainly looks good.

Winovich was drafted in the third round while the only man to have a higher pass-rush win percentage in 2017 than Nelson was drafted in the first.

Nelson may not have the bend to make him a day one draft pick, and he may not have had the total production to get himself drafted in the first two days even. But the NFL is all about winning. It doesn’t matter who is bigger, faster or stronger if they don’t win.

And if this stat shows anything, it shows he’s been able to consistently win against some of the top collegiate competition in the country.

At the Senior Bowl this past off-season, Nelson also gave first-round draft pick Andre Dillard all he could handle when they faced off against each other.

Winning early is big at any level in football. Todd Bowles will be looking for ways to get Nelson into positions he can win in early in snaps as a pro, and if the two can even get close to his NCAA pass-rush win percentage, then the Buccaneers found a steal in the fourth-round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jamel Dean Jersey

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There was a time when Jamel Dean thought this day would never come.

It was the fall of 2016. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound cornerback had already overcome two serious injuries to the same knee, transferred schools and sat out what should have been his freshman season. And right before he was finally going to get onto the field, he suffered a serious injury his other knee, sidelining him for another year.

“He was like, ‘Well, maybe this is just not for me, so I’ll just give up,'” his aunt, Tinita Brown, told the Montgomery Advertiser. “We were like, ‘Jamel, it’s just a setback. Do you really want to play football?’ He was like, ‘Yes, I love it.’ ‘Well, you got to fight for it. It’s not going to come to you easy. You got to fight for it.’”

Dean did exactly that. On Friday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected the former Auburn cornerback with the 94th overall pick in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft.

It marks the fourth straight year that the Tigers have had a defensive back selected, following Blake Countess in 2016, Rudy Ford and Joshua Holsey in 2017, and Carlton Davis in 2018. Dean will rejoin his former teammate in Davis, who went to the Bucs with the 63rd overall pick of the 2018 draft.

“He’s a wonderful person and he’s a great player too. He’s had some adversity with his knees, but since he’s been healthy he’s one of the better defensive backs, I feel like, since I’ve been here,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said last month. “He’s going to be a big-time pro.”

It’s the outcome many expected for Dean when he was a four-star cornerback out of Cocoa, Florida, ranked 29th at his position in the Class of 2015. Former Auburn defensive backs coach Greg Brown described Dean as “the total package.”

The only thing that ever held him back were injuries. Dean tore his ACL and meniscus during his junior season, the same year he committed to Ohio State. He recovered in time to play his senior season at Cocoa High, then tore the meniscus again in that same knee before a postseason all-star game.

The Buckeyes’ medical staff disqualified Dean from competition, deeming his knee injury to be that serious. A second opinion from renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews stated that he would be ready to resume full activity that summer with continued rehab, but Ohio State wasn’t willing to offer him any more than a medical hardship, meaning he would be on scholarship but not part of the football team.

Dean transferred to Auburn instead.

“He basically gave up his senior year of high school on the promise that he was going to get taken care of, and he didn’t get taken care of,” said former Cocoa head coach John Wilkinson, who is now at New Smyrna Beach High. “Thank God that Auburn took a chance on him.”

That chance more than paid off when Dean finally did get on the field in 2017. He started two seasons at cornerback in 2017 and 2018, totaling 73 tackles, 17 pass breakups and two interceptions over 26 games while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 40.2 percent of the 92 passes thrown into his coverage during that time, per Pro Football Focus.

If that wasn’t good enough, Dean wowed scouts when he ran a 4.30-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, which was the fastest among corners and second-fastest among all players in Indianapolis.

“He was inconsistent, but he tested off the charts. He obviously has the length and size,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “You watch him, and one game, he’ll look like he had the chance to be an early round pick, the other, he looked like more of a later round guy. I never thought he tackled well enough; he wasn’t reliable there. He was inconsistent in coverage. But, I think the potential, because of that workout, made him attractive at this point.”

Dean not only joins a former teammate in Tampa Bay, but also a secondary that proved to be one of the worst in the NFL last season, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete a league-worst 72.5% of their passes. The Bucs added Dean and fellow 2019 draft pick Sean Bunting (No. 39 overall out of Central Michigan) to the returning tandem of Davis and Vernon Hargreaves in attempt to shore that unit up.

After spending nearly two years not knowing if he would even play football in college, let alone in the NFL, Dean won’t be intimidated by the big stage.

“There aren’t many dudes who have had three knee surgeries and still continue to play football,” Dean said. “That lets you know that I know how to handle adversity.”

Sean Bunting Jersey

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope they’re finally getting it right on defense.

After selecting linebacker Devin White in Thursday’s first round, the Bucs reiterated their commitment to improving on defense by selecting Central Michigan cornerback Sean Bunting in the second round and Auburn cornerback Jamel Dean and Kentucky safety Mike Edwards in the third round on Friday night.

The Bucs were one of the NFL’s most productive teams on offense last year but missed the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season because of an inconsistent pass rush and an inability to keep opponents out of the end zone.

New coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht are determined to change that, bringing in three potential starters in free agency and using the club’s first four picks in this week’s draft to bolster a unit that ranked 24th in total defense while allowing 29 points per game – second-most in the league in 2018.

“When Bruce came in … we knew we had to address that side of the ball,” said Licht, who’s leading his sixth draft as Bucs GM.

The pass rush and a leaky secondary have been liabilities throughout the GM’s tenure.

Including the three players added Friday, the Bucs have drafted six defensive backs since 2016, though Licht said that’s not necessarily “an indictment on the players who are here.”

“You’re always trying to get better,” he said, adding that a lack of depth in the secondary was a problem last season, when the Bucs finished 5-11 for the second straight year.

“Competition is a beautiful thing in this league,” said the GM, who lured Arians out of retirement and back to the sideline in January.

Bunting was the seventh player taken in the second round, 39th overall. Dean and Edwards were selected 94th and 99th, respectively, with picks obtained when Tampa Bay traded No. 70 overall to the Los Angeles Rams.

Bunting is the first cornerback drafted out of the Mid-American Conference school in 34 years and the highest drafted player from Central Michigan since offensive lineman Eric Fisher was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013.

“It was just a blessing, honestly. I couldn’t process the moment when it happened,” Bunting said of getting the call from the Bucs. “I could only kind of smile and stare at the TV screen.”

In Tampa Bay, he’ll join White, Dean and Edwards as part of a potential fix for one of the NFL’s worst defenses.

White, an inside linebacker out of LSU, was the fifth pick of the opening round. The Bucs selected him even though Josh Allen, the top-rated edge pass rusher in the draft, was still available.

Arians and Licht said the 6-foot, 237-pound White fits everything they were looking for in a leader and versatile defender.

“The tape speaks for itself,” Arians said. “People say: ‘You need a pass-rusher.’ He’s pretty good at that and we do like to blitz up the middle – quarterbacks don’t like pressure up the middle. He fits everything that we want as a human being and as a football player. I really couldn’t be any more ecstatic.”

White and Bunting, who had nine career interceptions in college, will get an opportunity to compete for starting jobs as rookies in the new 3-4 scheme being installed by Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

“I would say my best attribute is being able to take the ball out of the air,” Bunting said. “I’m a ball hawk. I consider myself a receiving defensive back. That something I take pride in, taking the ball away and giving it back to the offense.”

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Devin White Jersey

Louisiana State linebacker Devin White poses with his new jersey after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected White in the first round at the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn.(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on Devin White to help them become relevant again.

The powerful and speedy LSU linebacker was the fifth pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, joining a porous defense making the transition to a 3-4 scheme after allowing the second-most points in the NFL last season.

Coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht selected the 6-foot, 237-pound White over edge pass rusher Josh Allen and tackle Ed Oliver and plan use him, along with veteran Lavonte David, at inside linebacker in the system being installed by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

“Coach Todd told me getting you will be like getting a new shiny, pretty car and I’m going to use you and I’m going to drive you to the fullest,” White said. “I’m ready for it. I’ve been put in this situation for a reason. I’m ready to show everybody that I’m the guy for the middle of that defense.”

The Bucs are coming off a 5-11 finish that cost former coach Dirk Koetter his job and haven’t made the playoffs since 2007— the second-longest drought in the league.

White was the first linebacker selected Thursday night and the first Tampa Bay has taken in the first round since Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks was the 28th pick in 1995.

Improving the pass rush is a priority, which would have been one reason to opt for Allen, who had 17 sacks at Kentucky last season.

Licht said White, who converted to linebacker after being recruited to LSU as a running back, is an ideal fit for the Bucs, who lost another former LSU linebacker, Kwon Alexander, to the San Francisco 49ers in free agency this offseason.

“We talked about these guys over and over. We watched every play they’ve ever played in college. and we felt very comfortable that we made the right decision,” Licht said. “Devin’s a linebacker, but he’s also an attacking player, he’s a pressure-type linebacker. He can get to the quarterback as well.”

The GM also raved about White’s leadership qualities and versatility.

“You have linebackers that cover and don’t play the run that great. You have guys who can play the run who can’t cover that great,” Licht said. “He can do both exceptionally well, in addition to blitzing, which is an art itself.”

Licht is also banking on White having an immediate impact on a unit that finished 24th in total defense and allowed 29 points per game last season.

At best, Tampa Bay’s success in the draft has been spotty under Licht, who’s in his sixth year with the team.

Mike Evans (first-round, No. 6 overall in 2014) has developed into one of the NFL’s top receivers, Jameis Winston (No. 1 overall, 2015) still has a chance to prove he’s the team’s long-term solution at quarterback and tight end O.J. Howard (20th, 2017) is coming off a productive — albeit injured-shortened — first two seasons in an offense that ranked among the league’s best in 2018.

But the defense has continued to struggle under Licht’s watch, with Vernon Hargreaves III (cornerback, 11th overall 2016), Noah Spence (edge rusher, second round 2016) and M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis (cornerbacks, second round 2018) among the young players who’ve yet to contribute significantly.

And that’s not to mention, Roberto Aguayo, the kicker the Bucs traded up to select in the second round three years ago. He was a major disappointment as a rookie and was released after just one season.

The selection of White comes a year after Tampa Bay invested heavily in free agency to revamp the defensive line, bolstered the pass rush by trading for Jason Pierre-Paul and drafted defensive tackle Vita Vea in the first round, No. 12 overall.

Arians and Licht still faces a decision on the future of six-time Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy, who’s due to earn $13 million in 2019.

The 10th-year pro did not participate in this week’s voluntary mini-camp and unless he’s traded, released or agrees to a significant pay cut, his hefty salary will make it difficult to free enough money to sign the club’s draft picks.

Mike Alstott Jersey

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Isaiah Roque is one of the best players from the Houston, TX area in the Class of 2022.

The 5-foot, 131-pound Roque, who attends John H. Guyer High School, is a versatile player that works as a fullback, running back and linebacker.

Roque has played for the HAFL Summercreek Bulldogs white junior team (2014), HAFL Summercreek Bulldogs maroon junior team (2015), Humble War Eagles select (11u), HAFL Atascocita white senior team (2016) and Texas Footwork Elite 7on7 (14u).

During his outstanding youth football career, Roque already received plenty of recognition such as being selected to the HAFL Hit Squad All Star senior team in 2016.

Roque is humbled for the opportunities to showcase his skills against the best of the best.

“It has shown me how hard I’ve worked and my progress from when I first started to now, and how much I’ve improved,” Roque said. “It was challenging but fun competition to go against. Also I learned a lot.”

No matter the opponent, on each snap Roque is determined to give it his all.

Roque is going all out.

The motor is always at full throttle whenever Roque steps between the lines.

“At running back it’s to hit the hole hard or find another one if the main one is closed. Also to truck or juke the person in front of me and score. At fullback it’s to find the first person trying to tackle the running back and put them on their back,” Roque said. “At middle linebacker it’s to read the formation and try to figure out where the play is going. Also to stay in my zone and watch for the crossing routes on pass plays and find the ball and go to it on a run.”

Roque has great passion and energy whenever he’s on the gridiron. Roque tells why he enjoys the game of football so much.

“The thing I love most about playing the game of football is the contact and intensity,” Roque said. “I love to be able to express my emotions in a positive way.”

Roque has learned many valuable lessons from playing football that he applies to his everyday life.

The main one is applying perspective to all situations.

“Football has taught me so much about life,” Roque said. “Such as to keep pushing through the pain because there is always something better in the end.”

Roque recalls his favorite football memory.

“Having a great defensive game. I had three sacks in the first half along with many tackles also throughout the game. The offense was also doing great,” Roque said. “It is my favorite memory because it hyped the team up and gave everybody the confidence we needed to win the game.”

Texas Footwork founder Darren Hendricks has trained and coached Roque for the past two years.

Hendricks explains the best parts of Roque’s game.

“At fullback and running back he is very good at running precise routes. He’s always in the right place,” Hendricks said. “He was one of the most improved kids on my 7-on-7 team through catching the ball, getting faster. He never tried to do too much while still doing what the team needed.”

Roque takes his role as one of the leaders on the team very seriously. Roque makes sure he’s a daily positive influence on his peers.

“I encourage my teammates on and of the field. I tell them if I see something i think could help us with the next play or drive. I’ll sub out with anyone if they’re tired, it doesn’t matter their position. I do anything to help around,” Roque said. “I tell everyone don’t get too high or too down because the game can turn in one play.”

Hendricks adds that Roque is one of those consummate teammates that every squad needs to be successful.

“He celebrates with every kid through a high-five or a pat on the back,” Hendricks said. “He’s just one of those kids that enjoys the success of his teammates.”

Roque is appreciative of having amazing male role models that are supportive.

“My coaches have helped make me a better player and person,” Roque said. “Such as not everything is going to go the right way so get back up and keep going. To get back up and keep going when you get knocked down.”

Hendricks is an advocate of Roque’s capabilities.

“In the championship game against the Goon Squad, they threw it across the middle and he was where he was supposed to be,” Hendricks said. “They tipped the ball up and he had the presence of mind to grab the ball and run for the touchdown that ultimately won the game for us, which was our first tournament championship.”

In addition to making clutch plays, Roque also has a high level of football IQ as well.

Roque has excellent football awareness that puts him in position to thrive.

“Since his dad is a coach I know he studies the plays a lot and spends a lot of time off the field just trying to get to know the playbook,” Hendricks said. “He makes sure he does everything right because he’s a perfectionist. He’s one of those kids that you can depend on as a coach.”

Roque is on the grind to perfect and hone his craft in any way possible.

“He’s one of those kids that has an extreme amount of heart. He has great work ethic,” Hendricks said. “He’s the first one there in the weight room and the last one to leave. If you try to give him a lighter weight that most kids his age can do, he doesn’t want it. He wants to do what the high school kids do. He’s the kind of freshman that’s going to challenge a varsity kid for his position.”

Hendricks explains why he compares Roque to this player.

“He’s like Mike Alstott,” Hendricks said. “This kid, believe it or not, can squat probably around 320 pounds right now. He’s extremely strong and physical.”

Meanwhile, Roque patterns his play after these standouts.

“I look up to Ray lewis and Leonard Fournette,” Roque said. “I love the intensity they play with and they both hit hard.”

Roque is constantly striving for greatness in everything that he does.

“My goal on and off the field is to be a better person and player,” Roque said. “I want to make my family proud of me in all that I do.”

Before the pros, Roque dreams of being the next great Notre Dame Fighting Irish player.

“They produce the best players in the NFL and they have a great tradition,” Roque said. “I would love to be a part of their program.”

Roque lists history as his favorite subject in school.

“I like to learn about how people used to live and how different it is now,” Roque said.

Hendricks outlines the next areas of improvement for Roque.

“Just to continue to learn in different positions. Just continue to expand his knowledge at different positions,” Hendricks said. “Don’t just get tied down to the positions you play right now.”

Hendricks believes the sky is the limit as long as Roque continues to stay hungry.

“He can go to college and play for somebody,” Hendricks said. “He has all the natural ability in the world.”

Ronde Barber Jersey

Ronde Barber to set pace at RR

Starkey Speedway in Roanoke, a quarter-mile dirt track that was the site of several NASCAR races in the early years, closed in the mid-1960s, years before Ronde Barber was born.

While missing out on a dirt-track NASCAR race might seem a disappointment — or might not — Barber made do as an athlete. The Roanoke native received a football scholarship from the University of Virginia. He started three seasons at cornerback, graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce, was a third-round draft choice of Tampa Bay and played 16 years with the Buccaneers.

And Barber will scratch his NASCAR itch Saturday night at Richmond Raceway when he drives the pace car for the first few warm-up laps of the Toyota Owners 400.

He’ll buzz around the track at the speed of 45 miles per hour, which sounds like the perfect speed to him.

“I anticipate this being light lifting,” he said, laughing. “Nothing heavy, like throwing out the first pitch of a baseball game.”

Throwing the first pitch is harder than it looks, and many celebrities and athletes make it look pretty difficult and embarrassingly memorable.

While it’s possible to put the pace car into a wall, it’s not likely if a simple rule is followed: keep it on the road.

Barber, 44, said he has done pace car training. He also was taken around a track at something approaching race-day speed.

“I don’t think I ever went that fast going from Roanoke to Charlottesville,” Barber said, laughing.

He’s doing his 45-miles-per-hour Saturday in Richmond because Fox Sports, for whom he works as a game-day NFL analyst, asked if he was interested.

Fox will carry the race Saturday night, weather permitting.

Barber will begin his seventh season as a game analyst for Fox this fall. And if his playing career is any indication, he’s in it for the long haul.

Barber not only played 16 seasons in the NFL, he holds the record for most consecutive starts at cornerback in NFL history, 215. And he has the most consecutive starts as a defensive back in NFL history, 200.

“My last year, the Bucs moved me to safety,” Barber said. “But they started me in the first game that season [2012] at cornerback, so I could get to 200.”

Barber’s streak could have been 223. But during his third season, he didn’t start in the ninth game because of a hamstring injury. He did go into the contest, and has a streak of 224 consecutive games played.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Barber’s longevity, consistency and availability involved some luck and a great deal of preparation.

“The lucky part is avoiding getting caught up in a pile of players where something crazy happens,” Barber said. “But I definitely took care of myself.

“I saw three or four practitioners a week for massage, muscle activation, chiropractic work. It was a process. Over the course of a 17-, 18-, 19-week season, you have to put in a lot of work to take care of your body. It’s almost a 24-hour-a-day job, and I was willing to do that. It paid off.”

It was the NFL, though. From the first day of training camp to the last day of the season, pain, or at least discomfort, is involved.

“You don’t play that many games and not play hurt or play through something,” Barber said. “I just always found a way. I was not very keen on watching somebody else do my job.”

Barber also is lucky that finding a way to play doesn’t affect him now.

“I wake up feeling fine,” he said. “I’m active. I still try to stay in shape. I haven’t let myself go.”

Add that with 47 career interceptions, five Pro Bowl appearances, three NFL All-Pro first team selections, the only Tampa Bay player with at least 40 interceptions and 20 sacks in his career, plus a significant role in the Bucs’ victory over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, and it could or should lead to a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Barber simply said, “I hope so.”

At the moment, he describes himself as one of the “giddily obnoxious” Virginia fans over the Cavaliers’ national championship in men’s basketball.

“It’s almost like it was destined to happen,” he said.

Barber, whose twin brother Tiki was a star running back at Virginia, played 10 seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants and gained 10,449 yards rushing, also is heartened by the recent performance of the Virginia football program.

“I see progress,” he said. “Bronco [Mendenhall] has a plan. You can see he’s committed to what he’s doing. He’s got what he wants in a quarterback [Bryce Perkins]: someone he can trust to make plays and who gives him a chance to win.”

Every year, Barber progresses as an analyst for Fox. He puts in the time, studies film of NFL players and just as he did during his playing career, shows up and gets the job done on Sundays.

Now, if he can keep that pace car in the road Saturday night, he’ll be giddy about one more thing.