Larry English stood on the sidelines at Huskie Stadium on Saturday, anxious and excited to find out where his new career would start.
“I always felt I was capable of doing monumental things and I’m grateful that things are coming true,” English said.
They came true even earlier than most expected.
The San Diego Chargers selected the Northern Illinois defensive end with the No. 16 pick in the first round of Saturday’s NFL Draft. English became the highest draft pick in NIU history, eclipsing John Spilis, who was the 64th overall pick in the 1969 draft by the Green Bay Packers.
The pick was a bit of surprise as almost every mock draft had English going at least five picks later in the first round or in the early portion of the second round. San Diego also was thought to have a need for an inside linebacker or running back.
But, in the eyes of San Diego general manager A.J. Smith, there was something about English that said Smith had to take two-time Mid-American Conference MVP at No. 16.
“Unless we shore up the defense, we’re not going to go where we want to go,” Smith told The Associated Press. “We need to bring pressure and this is a guy that can bring the heat – physical, nasty, great presence. We’re going to put him in the mix, give him to coach [Ron] Rivera and turn him loose.”
English said he went up to his room in his boyhood Aurora home, came out to the hallway and saw his mom before the phone rang. The Chargers were on the other line, telling him he was about to trade in the Huskie logo on his helmet for a lightning bolt.
“It’s hard to explain, hard to put it fully into words how I feel,” English said. “I’m extremely excited, I’m very happy and I’m extremely grateful. Today has been an excellent day. It was great to see everyone at
NIU earlier today, to see the team and be able to say a few parting words. It kind of made the transition complete.”
Last year’s No. 16 pick, Arizona cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, signed a six-year deal worth around $16 million, with just under $9 million in guaranteed money.
San Diego plays a 3-4 defense, which means that English will play outside linebacker.
He had stated multiple times before the draft that he didn’t care if he played defensive end, outside linebacker or both in a hybrid-type role and felt he could be successful because of his ability to rush the passer.
NIU coach Jerry Kill, who was on his way to English’s house to watch the draft with him when the Chargers made their pick, said what matters is how English fits in with San Diego’s scheme.
“They’ll want him to play up and to rush the passer,” Kill said. “It’s got to be a fit. You draft a kid 16th and it has to be a fit because they’re going to pay that kid a lot of money.”
The Chargers are familiar with draft prospects from Northern Illinois. They selected running back Michael Turner, now with the Falcons, in the fifth round in 2004.
English was just happy to learn where he was going.
“I’m happy to be part of the organization,” English said. “It’s a great team and a great organization. I honestly had no idea where or when I was going to go. I’m relieved to know and get some clarity on my future. I think that system and style of defense is going to be great for me.
“I can’t wait to get out there and start.”