The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 28, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Neild could be draft sleeper

MORGANTOWN — There was a time a couple of years back that a columnist completely out of ideas for writing anything of value sat down with West Virginia University nose guard Chris Neild and asked him as many off-the-wall questions as he could think of.

One of those questions was if he could go back to any era, which era would he take: Caveman, Civil War, Roaring ’20s, Depression, World War II, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s? The expectation, knowing Neild, was that he would select Caveman, it being so easy to pick him playing the part of Fred Flintstone.

His answer was something of a surprise, being the 1950s, which is the era of “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Donna Reed” and “Father Knows Best.” So off the wall was that answer that a reason for the selection was sought.

“They tell me they had 2-cent cheeseburgers then. That’s 50 cheeseburgers for a dollar!” he roared.

And now you know more about Chris Neild than does the National Football League, who has weighed him, measured him, timed him, tested him and talked with him with an eye on the draft that begins today and in which Neild is one of a few WVU players who may be gobbled up in the mid- to late rounds.

Oh, the NFL can tell you a lot about him. After the NFL Combine, nfl.com carried this assessment of Neild on its website:

Neild is a run-stopping defensive tackle who could contribute in a defensive line rotation at the next level. He is stout with a strong lower half and is very difficult to move out of running lanes. He also has very active hands to keep blockers from getting inside and flashes the lateral range to make plays outside of the tackle box. However, he lacks explosion off the line and is very raw as a pass rusher. Neild possesses natural leverage and is an asset against the run and he will likely be a middle round pick.

Wonderful. But who is he? And why is he likely to be one of the real sleepers in this draft?

Bill Kirelawich has been his defensive line coach for his four years at WVU, and he knows him well enough to know that he falls into some pretty good company when it comes to NFL defensive linemen who went on to the NFL.

To him, Neild ranks there with defensive tackles John Thornton and Chris Parker, two of the classiest and best players he ever coached. Thornton was drafted in the second round by the Tennessee Titans in the 1999 draft and had a long and successful NFL career, while Parker was an eighth-round pick of Detroit after starring on the 1988 unbeaten team but failed to make it in the NFL.

You ask Kirelawich, who has three decades-plus of doing this stuff, about why Neild will make it in the NFL and you get the kind of answer only Kirelawich can give you. He notes that he watches some NFL and sees the defensive linemen and notes they are often “heavy guys on normal frames.”

“To get to 250 and 260 they need to eat and get fat. But if you look at their hands and wrists, they have little hands and little wrists,” Kirelawich observed. “This guy is 230 pounds naturally. His hands are big. He has the hands of a man. He doesn’t have to gain a whole lot of weight and get his body out of proportion to be the guy they want.”

At 319, he is just right, at least in the eyes of Kirelawich.

“You see enough of the NFL games with the slobs who look like they’re carrying triplets. That’s what they look like. He doesn’t have to do that,” Kirelawich said. “John Thornton was like that. Chris Parker was like that ... and all three are the same personality.”

Indeed, it is the personality, the makeup that separates the good players from the average and the great players from the good, and no matter how much they measure or time or question a player, they can’t know his makeup the way a coach who has spent four years with him does.

“Dry sense of humor, very sharp guys, take coaching, know how to keep their feelings in their pockets,” Kirelawich said of all three. “I’ve never seen any of the three of them ever get sensitive or get their feelings hurt ... and I’m going to hurt guys’ feelings. They are the kind of guys, if you were their age, you’d go out for a beer with them.”

If there was no other point he wanted to make with an NFL scout, that is it.

“This is exactly what I tell the NFL scouts. I’d love to have that kid back. I love coaching that kid. I loved coaching Parker and I loved coaching Thornton,” he said.

And it wasn’t because of their ability.

“Beyond football players, they all had that humility about them. They had that sense ... that sense of, eh ... I don’t know, time and place. I don’t know what you call it. They are every student. They are no one special. They were another guy in the classroom, another guy in the meeting room, but there was a sense of ownership team-wise about them. It was their team. They are prideful kids.”

About the only problem Kirelawich had with them went back to those 2-cent cheeseburgers from the 1950s and the way the defensive linemen look in the NFL.

“There never was a time where we had to have a heart-to-heart talk ... ‘I want to quit; I don’t like football’ ... there never was one of them. They were a man’s man from end to end. They never changed,” Kirelawich said.

“Other than my ongoing fights with the three of them on weight — I want them down; they want up — I tell them ‘You ain’t in the NFL yet. I don’t want fat guys.’”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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