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Sports

November 8, 2012

Best of West: Babineaux's success story will be among best from NFL draft

PORT ARTHUR — Edtor’s note: The following column from the  Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on April 20, 2006.

    

    As always, there will be some terrific human-interest stories coming out of this weekend’s NFL draft. Few, if any, will be better than that of Lincoln’s Jonathan Babineaux.

    Barely on the recruiting radar because of a shoulder injury that wiped out much of his senior season, Babineaux got an opportunity at Iowa because of former Lincoln assistant Carl Jackson’s presence on the Hawkeye coaching staff. Five years, two broken legs and two position changes later, he’s a near cinch first-day selection.

    Coming off a sensational senior year in which his 11 sacks led the Big Ten, and impressive workouts at the NFL Combine and Iowa’s pro day for NFL scouts, Babineaux’s stock is soaring. There’s an outside chance he could slip into the bottom of the first round, although consensus pretty much settles on the second round.

    About the only question surrounding Jonathan is whether the guy whose college career began as a 230-pound fullback is going to be taken as a defensive end or defensive tackle. At 6-2, 286, he’s considered a bit undersized to play inside, but some say his quickness and excellent technique offset size shortcomings.

    “Quickness is my strength, says Babineaux. “Some teams like me at end. Some teams like me inside. It doesn’t make any difference to me. I don’t care which team takes me, either, although it would be nice to wind up in Seattle.”

    Seattle, of course, is where younger brother Jordan is an up-and-coming second-year cornerback, after overcoming the odds against making an NFL roster as a free agent from a small school.

    The keys to Jonathan’s feel-good story are Jackson being on Lincoln’s coaching staff his junior year, a relentless work ethic, a football IQ that prompted his position coach at Iowa to have him call the team’s line stunts and personal qualities that led to him being appointed to the team’s leadership council.

    “He’s a great young man from an exceptional family,” says Jackson. “I sort of got a feel for the kind of player he could be the year I was at Lincoln. Nobody really tried to recruit him because of the injury. I asked for some tape on him and people on our staff were impressed.

    “He proved to be a great addition to our program. I just can’t say enough good things about him as a person or as a player. He’s one of those guys who plays with his pads low and is very, very tough. He doesn’t say much, he’s just a terrific leader by example.”

    Babineaux played in 11 games at Iowa as a true freshman, starting three of them at fullback. A right tibia fracture in spring drills the following year forced him to sit out the next fall as a medical redshirt. Upon his return, he was moved to defensive tackle, started 11 games and showed the potential to develop into a top-of-the-line player.

    However, just when he was blossoming into a dominant defender, the injury bug bit again. In the eighth game of his junior season, he tore ligaments in his ankle and again suffered a fracture of the right tibia. But he didn’t get discouraged and returned this past season, bigger and better than ever.

    “Injuries are going to happen,” Babineaux said. “I had come back from an injury in high school and another one in college. My dream was to play in the NFL, so I just worked really hard on my rehab to get myself in position for a strong senior year.”

    Among Babineaux’s senior honors were first team All-America selection by The NFL Draft Report, All Big Ten first team, recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award and winner of Iowa’s  Hayden Fry “Extra Heartbeat” Award. He was also voted defensive captain and named Most Valuable Defensive Player for an Iowa team that went 10-2, beat LSU in the Captial One Bowl and was ranked No. 8 in the final AP poll.

    His efforts led to the following evaluation on the NFL Draft Tracker report that goes to all teams:

    “Is a versatile prospect with rare initial quickness and speed for his size. Has the anticipation skills, initial burst and agility to develop into a consistent interior penetrator . . . Shows good initial pop and power. Does a fine job of finding the ball when he gets through the line of scrimmage . . .  

    “Has excellent closing burst as a pass rusher and in pursuit of the ball carrier. Is a powerful tackler with good open field tackling skills for a DT . . . If developed properly, could play a versatile role in the NFL as an end on run downs who moves inside as a pass rusher on obvious passing downs.”

    Babineaux, meanwhile, says it’s no big deal that he was good enough to start at fullback as freshman in a high quality collegiate program, then wound up becoming one of the nation’s top defensive linemen.

    “It wasn’t that hard an adjustment,” he said. “You are just playing more with your hands and using your feet more. I’m just thankful Coach Jackson was at Iowa and I got the opportunity to play there. My only other offer was North Texas.”

    Babineaux is flying to Port Arthur later this week so he can spend what will be the biggest day of his life at home with his mother and siblings. He’ll soon be the fifth of the five kids Barbara Babineaux reared on her own to get a degree, and being anywhere but home on draft day would be unthinkable.

    “She was the hero and role model for all of us,” he said of his mother. “She was our motivation. I have to be there to share this moment with her.”

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net.

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