You're forgiven if you haven't heard of Howard linebacker Keith Pough. He's a small-school prospect who didn't exactly blow up the combine. He's been under the radar for most of the draft process, so his name isn't one that most fans know.
They'll find out about him soon enough, when his passionate play and fiery demeanor earn him a spot on an NFL roster.
Pough has a chip on his shoulder dating back to high school, when he was a 6-foot, 170-pound receiver in South Carolina. Even after a growth spurt and a tremendous senior season, Pough was just lightly recruited, earning opportunities to walk on at schools like LSU and Vanderbilt. Despite these offers, Pough knew where he wanted to go.
Always attracted to the historically black colleges and universities, Pough elected to play at Howard, where they made him feel most at home. The rest, as they say, is history.
Pough became a two-time All-American and a highly regarded draft prospect. Now, he is living out what he calls his "lifelong dream."
When asked about the draft process, Pough exclaimed, "It's surreal, coming from where I came from." As a mid-round prospect, he is fully aware that he needs to keep working to achieve his dream, though: "There's no time to savor the moment...Any given moment, this can be taken away."
So, Pough will keep working. He will continue to develop his strengths: his passion, his "tremendous game speed," his "pad level" and strength at the point of contact. Don't think that Pough isn't confident, though. Asked to describe his strengths as a football player, he claimed, "Off the edge, I'm unstoppable." He is also confident in his tackling ability, claiming to bring down "anything I put my hands on."
At once both confident and humble, Pough has all the mental faculties to be a great NFL player. He is a tireless worker in the weight room, the practice facility and the film room. In fact, Pough considers his film study his biggest strength.
With that in mind, Pough isn't the slightest bit disturbed by his slow 4.90 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, a number he improved to 4.75 at his pro day. Pough will take his instincts and field awareness over pure track speed any day. His motto says as much: "Stopwatches don't make tackles."
Pough's confidence is well placed. His tackling in his game tape is superb, and he certainly looks faster than a 4.9 guy. Pough is perhaps the best linebacker in this draft at finding the ball carrier, tracking him down and making the play. Watch as he is constantly around the ball against Rutgers, his only major conference opponent in 2012.
Focusing so much on Pough the football player does not do justice to Pough the man. This young man has his head in the right place. Asked if there was anything he wanted the world to know about him, Pough humbly replied, "I'm just a humble young man with the opportunity to make my dream a reality...I just need one team to fall in love with me and give me an opportunity."
So, heads up to every NFL team. Keith Pough is a steal waiting to be had in the middle rounds, and whoever picks him up will get not just a great football player but also a high-character young man. He will make a team and a locker room better when his name is called in April.