As NFL Draft prospects prepare for the league’s scouting combine, it is natural for athletes to elicit comparisons to professionals at their respective positions.
Former Boston College strong safety Jamie Silva, 23, has drawn one that stands as a tremendous testament to his play and attitude—namely, to the late Pat Tillman.
“I have been talking to people who knew him personally, who are saying we have similar body types and playing styles,” Silva said. “I always looked up to him and he was somebody [whose career] I followed; to be mentioned in the same category with him is an honor.”
Tillman was the ultimate warrior—a hero who walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army Rangers as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, before being killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, at the age of 27.
Tillman was truly one-of-a kind—an exemplary individual. Nobody can live up to the sacrifice he made, but in football terms, the comparisons to Silva are absolutely valid.
Both players possessed almost identical physical measurements: 5’11” and just over 200 pounds. They also stood out on the field with flowing locks of hair tumbling from their helmets.
Tillman wasn’t blessed with major speed or power, but set an Arizona Cardinals team-record with 224 tackles in the 2000 season.
Silva does not expect to wow scouts in the speed drills, but compensates with his skills and savvy.
“I play smart, I will be in the right position to make a play and I don’t make mistakes to hurt my team,” he said. “I am not going to run a 4.3 [40-yard dash], but I feel with my reaction ability and game speed that I can get to the ball as fast or faster than the guy who runs a 4.3 will.”
Tillman arrived at Arizona State University as a walk-on before working his way into the 1997 Pacific-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
Silva was an unheralded recruit at Boston College who was known as an ironman over his collegiate career, as he missed only one game in four seasons due to injury.
After three seasons of gradual improvement, Silva exploded in his senior year with a team-leading 125 tackles and school-record eight interceptions (tied for first in the NCAA).
“I felt like I was capable [of that production],” said Silva, whose senior accolades included All-American selections by the AP, SI.com, CBS, CFN, Walter Camp, and FWAA first teams, along with inclusion as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back).
“Fortunately things came my way, I had opportunities to make some plays and I made them.”
Silva’s emergence played a major role in Boston College’s spectacular 2007 season, as the Eagles finished ranked No. 10 in the AP poll and No. 11 in the ESPN/Coaches poll with a record of 11-3.
“I was pretty confident we had a good team, but we kind of surprised the nation as we started out unranked and got all the way to No. 2 [at one point],” Silva said. “It was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Silva’s selflessness and love for the game will benefit him at the next level.
“I can contribute on special teams, whether that is covering on kick returns or blocking; I’m willing and happy to do that stuff,” he said. “I won’t take a play off no matter what part of the game it is.”
That type of attitude is not easy to find, and will help Silva remain upbeat through Draft weekend. He’s projected to go as high as the late second round or as low as the fifth, but seems to be ready for whatever comes.
“I don’t get involved with that, I’ll really have no clue until draft day,” Silva said. “I just have to do my thing. Hopefully coaches do their homework and pick who is going to be best for them.”
After all, Tillman lasted until the 227th pick in the 1998 draft, and his impact on and off the field will be felt forever.