7 NFL Draft Picks with the Best Feel-Good Backstories
April's NFL draft was an inauguration for many college football players who have overcome the greatest of obstacles.
Out of the 253 selections in this year's draft class, some picks stood above the rest—but not exactly on the basis of talent.
It's not all about the Indianapolis Colts selecting quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick, or Robert Griffin landing with the Washington Redskins. Unusual circumstances forced other athletes under the microscope.
One must dig deep to find the most unique player profiles. With that said, here are the seven best draft pick stories of the 2012 NFL draft.
Ohio State's Nate Ebner Is Selected in Sixth Round by New England
In the sixth round of the NFL draft, the New England Patriots went for a man who had no intentions of being drafted—Nate Ebner.
"After my Pro Day I had spoken with a couple teams and had figured I might get a shot here or there with some talk with some scouts," Ebner said in a conference call with the media. "I thought I might get a chance to get a job with a team, and that’s all I wanted. I just wanted a shot to prove myself and just get a chance really."
Ebner is the kind of guy you can't help but root for. He never played a down of high school football in Dublin, Ohio. Yet he did excel in another sport—rugby.
The 6'0", 205-pound Ebner played on the United States' U19 and U20 rugby squads, where he was named the team's Most Valuable Player in 2007 and 2008.
"They're very different sports, I guess the fact that when it's time to come down and hit somebody as I'm running down on kickoff, I'd say that's very similar to when you come in a rugby game and you have to hit someone," Ebner said.
Ebner is a breath of fresh air in a game where high school All-Americans have a laundry list of college offers. He was a walk-on for the Buckeyes three years ago, but he finished his career on scholarship after showing his toughness on special teams.
The special teamer has dealt with tragedy in his past. Ebner's father, Jeff, was killed at his auto-salvage business during an attempted robbery in 2008.
“My dad made me who I am today,” Ebner told Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch. “Without him, I don't know how I'd be like. I look back on everything I do in my life on a day-to-day basis, and it's impossible to not to think about him.”
Ebner discussed with his dad the possibility of walking onto the Ohio State football team. After his father's death, he decided to give it a shot.
"I came into Ohio State, I was a safety; practiced with them a lot," said Ebner. "I got a couple plays in a game at nickelback, played some nickelback. My role at Ohio State, they wanted me to play special teams, and that's what I did. The coaches wanted that, and I gave everything I had into that."
Nate Ebner will go to work with his lunch pale and hard hat in hand. If he makes it in the pros, it will be because of his strenuous efforts on special teams. With only 30 career tackles and one sack, he isn't a blue-chip prospect. But he's got grit, and that's what makes him an intriguing story to watch unfold.
West Virginia's Bruce Irvin Goes from High School Dropout to First-Round Pick
Bruce Irvin went 15th overall to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 NFL draft, but it wasn't an easy journey for the 6'3", 245-pound pass-rusher from Atlanta, Ga.
As a sophomore in high school, Irvin's bad grades made him ineligible to play football. Little did he know that he would never play another down at the high school level. By the time he was a junior, Irvin dropped out of school to live a misguided life on the streets.
Over the next couple of years, Irvin was dealing drugs, and he spent over two weeks in jail for robbery.
Irvin's mindset did not change until he received some advice from a friend who was arrested for trafficking cocaine. At this point, Irvin knew he had to make the most of his talent on the football field.
His friend said: "You're blessed with something that a lot of dudes don't have," Irvin told Thayer Evans of FoxSports.com. "Man, go to school and whatever you do, don't look back."
Irvin took his chance and ran with it.
With the guidance of Chad Allen—a local football coach who saw something in him—Irvin earned his GED in December 2007. Without fulfilling a general education requirement, Irvin would have had no shot at playing college football, and living a successful life would appear doubtful.
Irvin initially attended Butler Community College in Kansas, but he didn't play on the football team. In the fall of 2008, Irvin found himself at Mt. San Antonio College in California, and he was able to play football.
Although financial woes made paying for the school tough, Irvin's family helped him fight through the adversity. After a prolific season where he registered 16 sacks and 72 tackles at defensive end, Irvin found his name among the most elite junior college prospects in the nation.
Staggering numbers left Irvin with Division I football offers; he chose West Virginia. And it was a decision that has paved the way for the rest of his life.
In his two years with the Mountaineers, Irvin totaled 22.5 sacks. His proficiency rushing the passer along with his tremendous athletic showcase at the NFL Scouting Combine sparked him up the draft boards.
On May 7, Irvin inked a four-year deal with the Seahawks, worth $9.3 million, according to NFL salary-cap analyst Andrew Brandt.
Irvin's life has come full circle.
Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden Takes the Long Road to the NFL
At age 28, quarterback Brandon Weeden is now the oldest player to be drafted in the first round of the modern NFL draft.
Why is an NFL rookie older than Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers? Well, football wasn't the first sport he went pro in.
In 2002, Weeden was selected by the New York Yankees in Round 2 of the Major League Baseball draft as a pitcher. A $565,000 signing bonus swayed Weeden away from playing college baseball at Oklahoma State on scholarship and sent him to A-ball.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, he bounced around the lower levels of the minor leagues for five seasons with the Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals' affiliates. When it was all said and done, Weeden had accumulated a mediocre career ERA of 5.02 and a 19-26 record.
CBSSports.com reports that after coping with a torn labrum and tendinitis in his rotator cuff in 2006, Weeden opted to play football instead of having major arm surgery in hopes of righting a flailing baseball career.
In 2007, Weeden traded in his baseball mitt for a football helmet for the first time since his days at Sante Fe High School, where he was the team's Most Valuable Player.
Looking to go back to school and play football, Weeden reacquainted himself with Oklahoma State. This time, there was no scholarship offer, just a chance to walk on. He joined the football team in 2007 as a 23-year-old freshman.
The aging quarterback was not named the starter until 2010. Yet when given the opportunity, he excelled, tallying 71 passing touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons.
"His maturity stands out and that's impressive," Browns president Mike Holmgren said on a Cleveland radio station.
"He's 28 years old, he has that maturity and he gets it. When we realized that, or felt that, then it was an easy call. I think he's got a bright future," Holmgren added.
Illinois' Tavon Wilson Overcomes a Devastating Childhood to Get Drafted
Not getting an invitation to the Indianapolis Scouting Combine was tough for Illinois safety Tavon Wilson. However, it was nothing compared to the sadness he experienced as a child.
According to Ron Borges of the Boston Herald, Wilson's father was murdered when he was just a one-year-old. And when he was 12, his mother drowned during a pool party. Losing both of his parents at a young age would have destroyed most children—but not Wilson.
His grandmother, Darlene Williams, raised him following his mother's death. Thanks to her help, Wilson stayed on the right track, despite growing up in a rough area of Washington, D.C.
“He was always a good student, but his grades dropped a little bit when his mother passed,” Darlene Williams told the Galesburg Register Mail in 2009. “He always wanted to go to college. He loves sports so much that it kept him occupied.”
He used his unfortunate youth as motivation on the football field and in the classroom, attracting scholarship offers from Maryland, Boston College and Michigan State, before ultimately picking Illinois.
Yet, no matter where he went, he would never forget where he came from.
The remembrance of his mother is ingrained in both Wilson's mind and on his body. According to John Supinie of the Galesburg Register Mail, the 6'0", 205-pound defensive back has his mother's name, "Robin," tattooed on his left arm, and her face is tattooed on his chest. He visits her grave site nearly every time he returns home.
“Everybody has to overcome adversity," Wilson told Ron Borges. "I overcame a lot of things in my life. That’s the reason I’m here today and the reason why I’m the person I am today. I just keep working all the time.”
Undeniable determination is partly why the New England Patriots drafted the Fighting Illini safety with the 48th pick of the draft. Even though the three-year starter and team captain was projected as a sixth- to seventh-round pick by CBSSports.com.
Tavon Wilson is used to beating the odds, and now it's time for the 22-year-old to prove his critics wrong.
Jordan White Is Drafted After Six Seasons at Western Michigan
Wide receiver Jordan White was granted a sixth year of college eligibility after missing the 2006 and 2008 seasons due to injury.
Needless to say the Western Michigan super senior made it count, hauling in 140 catches for 1,911 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.
However, two separate knee injuries didn't help White's chances of being drafted. The Broncos wide out ran the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine—the second-slowest time for a receiver graded by NFLDraftScout.com.
A sluggish 40 time and two torn ACLs didn't scare the New York Jets away from the 6'0", 208-pound White, as he was drafted with pick No. 244 of the seventh round.
White will turn 24 in June, but if he can keep his knees out of harm's way, then this has the makings of an excellent feel-good story.
Family Hardships Don't Derail Utah State's Robert Turbin from Success
Utah State runningback Robert Turbin was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in round four of this year's draft. His story doesn't end there, though. He's spent much of his life looking out for his family members, making his journey to the NFL an admirable one.
Eric D. Williams of TheNewsTribune.com reports that when Turbin was a 5-year-old, his older sister Trina died from multiple sclerosis at age 21.
According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, his other sister Tiffany, was born with severe cerebral palsy, which left her unable to speak and paralyzed from the neck down. Robert has helped care for her ever since he was a child.
His 35-year-old brother Lonnie battled heroin addiction, and Robert just couldn't help him in time. This February, Lonnie was shot to death in Oakland, Calif.
Turbin had plans to send his brother to rehab once he got drafted in April. Yet, as Turbin knows -- life can take some unexpected turns.
"I was going to look out for him, the same way he always looked out for me," Turbin told Eric Branch. "The thing that hurts the most is that I never got an opportunity to try to help him. My dad tried to help him. My other family members tried to help him. But he never listened to anybody like he listened to his little brother."
Turbin was primarily raised by his father, Ronald, a retired truck mechanic and assistant church pastor. Meanwhile, his relationship to his mother has been more distant. She allegedly has a history of drug problems, and Turbin doesn't see her often.
It has been a rocky road to the NFL for Robert Turbin. But what doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger. And without a doubt, the 5'10", 222-pound back is strong, both on and off the football field.
"I saw how things were with my family and if I failed, then what?" Turbin said to Branch. "There was nobody else that could do anything, so I couldn't fail. I play to be great. I play to be the best every day because I want to. And I have to."
Rutgers' Eric LeGrand Signs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Eric LeGrand went undrafted in April's draft, but his story is still an inspiring one.
In October of 2010, Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a spinal-cord injury while tackling an Army kick returner. The brutal collision left him paralyzed from the neck down.
LeGrand was initially told he would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life, but he was breathing on his own just five weeks after the accident. No. 52 keeps improving little by little, and now can stand up with the help of a metal frame.
LeGrand will never play football again. However, on May 2, he signed a free-agent NFL contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Former Scarlet Knights coach, Greg Schiano, is now the Bucs head coach, and he wanted to do something to honor his former player.
"Leading up to the draft, I couldn't help but think that this should've been Eric's draft class," Schiano said. "This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men."
According to Tom Luicci of the The Star Ledger, LeGrand has the final spot on the Bucs' roster and will wear his college No. 52 with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay sent a jersey, helmet and contract to LeGrand soon after the announcement was made.
"I was like, 'Are you serious? You're going to use this on me?'" LeGrand said to Schiano. "And he goes, 'It's the least that we can do.' And I was like, 'I don't even know what to say to you right now. This is amazing. Thank you.' This is something I always dreamed about."
Although Eric LeGrand wasn't drafted in April, it would be unjust not to consider him as one of the best rookie stories.
"I think I've been able to touch a nation,'' LeGrand told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. "That's what I want to continue to do. If I can touch one person a day, I'm happy.''