March 7, 2007

Brown’s DeOssie Impresses at NFL Combine

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As you may have come to notice, the Ivy League produces a very meager supply of NFL talent. Obviously, certain names stand out when compiling the very short list of current players. Harvard alum Matt Birk has qualified for five Pro Bowls as a center for the Vikings. Columbia’s Marcellus Wiley plays a role on the Jaguar’s defensive line. Even Yale’s Eric Johnson, Harvard’s Isaiah Kacyvenski and Cornell’s own Kevin Boothe come to mind. Yet with the NFL draft at the end of April, there will certainly be one more name to add to the list: Brown defensive end Zak Deossie. As one of 326 players invited to the combine in Indianapolis, DeOssie was given the rare opportunity of showcasing his skills to NFL brass and his performance there ranked as one of the very best in the field.

At 6-5, 250 pounds, DeOssie played inside linebacker for the Bears, proving himself as a disruptive force to opposing offenses. A three-time first team All-Ivy and All-New England selection, DeOssie led Brown with 110 tackles this past season, including 68 solo stops, good for second in all of Division I-AA. He was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Cornell, racking up 13 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, and a half sack.

However, that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of his dominating play in his senior season, as he compiled 15 tackles against Yale and 14 more against Dartmouth. In fact, in four seasons at Brown, DeOssie recorded 315 total stops. For his efforts, in both his junior and senior campaign, he earned All-America honors and was named a finalist for Buck Buchanan Award for the nation’s top defender. Following the 2006 season, DeOssie was invited to play in a pair of bowl games to showcase his talents to NFL scouts — the Hula Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu and the East-West Shrine Game at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Deciding to participate in the latter alongside the likes of Miami’s defensive end Baraka Atkins and Iowa quarterback Drew Tate, DeOssie record four tackles, three of which were solo.

However, heading into the combine, the senior still remained relatively unknown as a major draft prospect. While he certainly had a standout Ivy League career, this usually amounts to very little exposure at the next level. In the eyes of many draft experts, despite his invitation to Indianapolis, DeOssie was viewed as only a later round prospect.

All that changed at the combine. In order to prepare for such a scrutinized event, the Brown product had been working out with a personal trainer since December, adding bulk to his already impressive frame. The extra conditioning certainly paid off. DeOssie put up 26 reps on the 225-pound bench press, just seven fewer than the best linebacker total. In fact, top linebacker prospects Lawrence Timmons (Florida State) and Patrick Willis (Mississippi) lifted only 25 and 22 respectively.

However, arguably his most impressive feat came in the most scrutinized talked-about drill, the 40-yard dash. Clocking in at 4.58, DeOssie was the eighth fastest linebacker in Indianapolis, trailing only New Mexico’s Quincy Black at 4.42. In addition to his straight-ahead speed, he showed great explosion in changing directions, recording the fourth best time in the three-cone drill. His 10’2” broad jump was also good for fifth in his group. His impressive performance at the combine places him among the top middle linebackers eligible for the upcoming draft, and accordingly, his draft stock has skyrocketed to the middle rounds.

In addition, DeOssie does have some advantages over his most immediate competition, primarily due to his football lineage. Zak’s father Steve was a standout linebacker in his own right, playing for Boston College in the early 1980’s. He continued on to the NFL after being selected in the fourth round of 1984 draft, enjoying a 12-year professional career as a linebacker and long snapper for the Cowboys, Giants, Jets, and Cowboys — earning a Super Bowl ring in the process in 1990.

Not only that, but the younger DeOssie also served as a ball boy at Patriots training camp, forming a relationship with New England head coach Bill Belichick. In fact, Belichick, a fellow graduate of Phillips Andover Academy in Maryland, has personally visited Brown Stadium to see Zak perform. Given his likeness in stature to current linebacker Mike Vrabel and the Patriots need for linebacker help on the inside, do not be surprised to see DeOssie’s name called as high as late in the third round in April’s draft.

Bryan Pepper is a Sun Senior Writer. Raising the Apple will appear every other Wednesday this semester.