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Quiet Strength: New York Jets Linebacker Vernon Gholston

Andrew PearsonContributor IMay 29, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 26:  Vernon Gholston poses for a photo after being selected as the sixth overall pick by the New York Jets during the 2008 NFL Draft on April 26, 2008 at Radio City Music Hall in April 26, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Ask Vernon Gholston about his 2008 season and he’d be the first to tell you that he underachieved.

Or maybe he won’t.

You see, Gholston isn’t exactly one to raise his voice, speak when he’s not spoken to, or blame the coaches for why he isn’t showing up in the stat sheet on a weekly basis.

Since Jet fans haven’t heard much from their number one pick of a year ago, they’re quick to label him a bust.

Finished. 

At 24 years old.

But to believe the whispers that first surfaced leading up to last year’s NFL Draft —that Gholston was apt to take plays off and maybe didn’t lack the fire, passion or work ethic to succeed at the NFL level—would be foolish.

Because work ethic is what Vernon Gholston is all about.

Sure he only started playing football as a high school sophomore, and not because the coach at Cass Technical High School in Detroit asked him to, but because he liked weightlifting.

Forgotten is the fact that he was all-state in Michigan as an offensive guard his junior season before switching to linebacker as a senior and excelling enough to have arguably the biggest name in college football—Ohio State—recruit him. 

Once at Ohio State, the coaches were so impressed by his ability to grasp things quickly that as a freshman he saw time in the team’s season opener against Cincinnati, and before the year was over he had moved up to No. 2 on the depth charts at defensive end.

During his four seasons there, one of which was cut short by a hand injury that cost him a full season and led him to redshirt, Gholston emerged as the acknowledged x-factor of the Buckeyes defense through his play at the “Leo” position, a spot had him not only rushing the passer but dropping back in coverage.

In preparing for the NFL Draft after an All-American junior season in which he set the Ohio State record for sacks in a season with 14, Gholston chose to work out for NFL coaches and scouts a second time even after wowing them one month prior at the NFL combine in Indianapolis because he was unhappy with his performance.

What resulted was reported serious interest by the New England Patriots (picking No. 7), a team known for smart draft choices, and stellar projections by many, including ESPN’s self-professed guru Mel Kiper, who likened Gholston to Shawne Merriman.

Despite being selected No. 6 by the Jets, Gholston started behind the eight ball, missing several team mini-camps in order to finish his semester at Ohio State, a fact that Gholston has since admitted severely impacted his contributions.

While Gholston was enduring his nightmare season and rumors were flying that Gholston just wasn’t smart enough for the pro game, then-coach Eric Mangini revealed something that many may have missed—that things weren’t so cut and dry for the team’s defensive players due to the Jets week-to-week changing of plays and calls, a rarity in the NFL.

Maybe the NFL game isn’t so easy after all, especially for a young man still relatively raw in terms of experience.

To his credit, this past offseason Gholston sought out the help of one of the game’s greats, Lawrence Taylor, in trying to improve and according to new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, is already looking more comfortable in early camps.

As Gholston told the Columbus Post Dispatch during his junior season at OSU, "I still have room to grow, and I'm still learning. That's the thing about staying hungry. Constant improvement, constant growing, seeking knowledge—that's what I'm about."

Now that doesn’t sound like a man who is going to rest on his laurels and let one sub par season ruin a promising career, does it?

In honor of being selected sixth overall by the Jets, here are six questions that might shed a little insight into just who Vernon Gholston is, both as a person and player:

 

1) Your father, Vernon Nelson, had a big impact on your life before passing away. What did he teach you?

2) How has your quiet nature affected how fans and coaches have viewed you during your maturation as a football player?

3) Having watched a majority of your first season from the sidelines, what have you learned about yourself and the NFL that will ultimately make you a better player going forward?

4) Who do you most credit for your development as a football player?

5) Your cousin, William Gholston, will embark on his own football journey in 2010 when he enters college as star recruit. What advice would you give him as he moves forward with the goal of one day playing in the NFL?

6) Finish this sentence. In five years Vernon Gholston will be…