By Jerry Burnes (Sports Editor)
When Larry English first watched the game of football, he didn’t fully understand the game. He picked up the concept but never realized that the men more than twice his size at the time were wearing pads.
Safe to say that every one of English’s 31.5 career sack victims are glad they wear pads in football.
“As a kid watching games on TV, I never knew they wore pads,” English said. “I always thought they were just really big guys playing football. Since then I always wanted to play football.”
English said he started playing football in the fourth grade and has missed one season ever since. In sixth grade, he was sidelined for the season after breaking his shoulder in summer camp.
Now, that same kid who never knew football required pads has turned into one of the scariest sights for MAC quarterbacks. English is the two-time Vern Smith Award winner for the MAC Most Valuable Player and entering the 2008 season, was the NCAA active leader in sacks, the same stat line that placed him atop the all-time sack list at NIU.
All the stats and accolades, however, don’t make their way into English’s head. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end seems humbled by the position he’s in.
“It’s been fun, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I’m blessed to be in this position. Not too many people get the chance to be in this spot.”
That spot has English heading to the NFL. What team, is still to be determined, but he’s projected to be a first-day draft pick by many experts.
“Sometimes you can’t help it [listening to the experts] but I really try not to spend my time seeing what people are saying about me,” English said. “In some cases it’s out of my hands so I just try not to stress myself out with it too much.”
On his road to the draft, English has still been in contact with his old NIU coach Joe Novak and still keeps in touch with his old teammates. He’s been in the NFL Scouting Combine with the best players in college football.
“Anytime you get to be around that kind of talent, it’s fun,” he said. “I thought I did OK. I could have done better.”
If English goes as the experts predict, he will be the highest draft pick in NIU history. Higher than NFL MVP candidate Michael Turner, higher than Super-Bowl starter Ryan Diem, and higher than NIU’s all-time leading rusher Garrett Wolfe — an accomplishment that would be an honor for English.
“It would mean a lot and it would be [an] honor,” he said. “Especially with the caliber of players to come out of NIU and into the NFL.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Greene, Northern Star.