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NFL DRAFT Cornerback Echols ready for next level



Published: Thu, April 18, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



USA Today reported that the former Ursuline standout may be taken in the second round Saturday.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

Know this about Mike Echols -- he has a healthy perspective on his young life. And that life is about to get even better.

Ask Echols what he's most proud of in his 23 years, and, without hesitation, he pinpoints the behavioral science and law degree that he received from the University of Wisconsin.

"Nothing can be better than that," said Echols, an Ursuline High graduate. "You come to college to play football, but you're also here for your degree. You can't play football forever."

Knowing the importance of a degree, Echols said, was something instilled in him by his parents, Robert and Mary Ann.

"When I finally walked that stage, it was one of the greatest moments for me and my family," Echols said.

The next level

But now, that stage is about to get even bigger. A four-year starter at cornerback for Wisconsin, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Echols is projected to be taken in this weekend's NFL draft.

Where, exactly, is hard to predict. USA Today reported the former Ursuline standout is valuable enough to be taken as early as the second round Saturday.

"On the football field, everything is in my control," Echols said. "But in this instance, you just have to sit and wait."

Which is what Echols will be doing this weekend with family and friends at his home in Youngstown. The process has been stressful, he admitted.

"I heard a lot of good things from a lot of teams," Echols said. "I try to ease some of the stress off myself by staying away from listening. So many things change on draft day."

Echols went through the interview process with all of the teams. He took the psychological and physical tests while trying to impress coaches. In the end, he was satisfied with the results.

"I just want to play," Echols said. "Whoever ends up picking me is getting a good pick. Regardless of the city, it's all the NFL. My parents would love me to be close to home, but you can't control that."

Luck of the Irish

Echols was a third-team all-state selection at Ursuline, from where he graduated in 1997 before being redshirted that year at Wisconsin. He had 10 interceptions as a senior for the Irish.

"What gives him an opportunity to go to the next level, besides his speed and jumping, is that he's a physical tackler," said Echols' high school coach, Dick Angle, now at Howland. "He took pride in tackling; he just wasn't concerned about covering."

That's part of what Echols prides himself on now -- being a balanced cornerback.

"I feel like I'm more of a complete corner," Echols said. "I love to tackle and be in on the run, as well as cover guys.

"In the NFL, some of the great corners -- you look at Charles Woodson and Shawn Springs -- are physical, complete corners," he added. "They tackle and they cover, and that's how I've molded my game."

At Wisconsin, Echols had to adjust to the increased speed of the game. He admitted that his redshirt year of '97 was beneficial in that he had more time to acclimate himself to college and Division I football.

"I always thought Michael was the complete athlete," Angle said. "I thought people [other colleges] missed the boat on him. All you had to do was watch the film."

Overcoming adversity

What makes Echols' story more special is that he operates at a high level while battling diabetes, something he downplays.

"It's something I do every day," said Echols, who takes insulin shots. "It's like routine. You get up every day, work out and lace up your cleats. I don't use it as a crutch. It makes me stronger as a player and in life."

Angle remembers when the disease was detected in Echols while the player was at Ursuline.

"In everyone's life, you run into a road block," Angle said. "Michael had a major road block and he learned how to get through it."

Echols' path has opened. Only now, he just doesn't know where it will end. The draft-day suspense continues to build as Echols wonders where he will play next.

"A lot of people would love to be where I'm at. I've been very blessed," Echols said. "I've always dreamed of playing in the NFL, playing in the Super Bowl.

"I'm at that doorstep to enter the NFL and fulfill my dream," he said. "It won't hit me until draft day -- whenever it happens."

richesson@vindy.com




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