By Joe Scalzo
The best season of Derek Wolfe’s career almost didn’t happen.
Last January, the Beaver Local High graduate had just completed a successful junior season at Cincinnati. He had $7 to his name and the mid-January deadline to apply for the NFL draft was looming.
“I was tiring of living the college life where you’re broke all the time,” said Wolfe, speaking by phone on Thursday from Cincinnati. “It was rough.”
After talking to his coaches, he decided to stay. He then erupted for a conference-best 19.5 tackles for loss last season, leading the Bearcats (10-3, 5-2) to a share of the Big East title while earning co-conference player of the year honors. He ranked 12th nationally with 9.5 sacks.
“It was a good decision,” Wolfe said of staying. “I improved in all aspects of the game. I think I played a lot harder and a lot faster, I grew up as a player and I improved my football intelligence.
“Everything ended up working out.”
More than a half-dozen Mahoning Valley natives have a good chance of either getting drafted later this month or getting a free agent deal soon afterward. Wolfe (6-5, 295) is a near-lock to be the first one of those picked, with several draft sites projecting him as a second- or third-round pick.
He would be the first Beaver Local graduate to play in the NFL.
“That’s huge,” said Wolfe, who joined Ohio State running back Dan Herron (Warren Harding) as one of the two Valley natives at February’s NFL combine. “After my sophomore year, I started getting some interest and saw scouts coming around, asking about me and this and that.
“You hear the buzz. That’s when I realized I could actually do it.”
Toledo cornerback Desmond Marrow (Mooney) also decided to stay an extra season to improve his draft stock. He made the most of it last fall, appearing in all 13 games (starting 12) while leading the team in tackles (83) and interceptions (three) and tying for fifth in the country with 18 passes defended to earn first team All-Mid-American Conference honors.
While he wasn’t invited to the combine, Marrow (6-3, 210) performed well at Toledo’s pro day on March 13, running a 4.49 40-yard dash while benching 225 pounds 19 times.
“I was kind of nervous but it was nothing but another challenge for another stage,” said Marrow. “I always hope to perform well on the big stage.
“It was stressful because I knew all the eyes were on me but it just showed all the hard work that I put in when I went to California [to train].”
While Wolfe was mum about which NFL teams he’s visited — “I’m not really allowed to tell you,” he said — Marrow said he’s been contacted by at least eight teams and was planning to fly to Houston to work out for the Texans this weekend.
“After [this weekend], I don’t really know what’s going to happen,” said Marrow, who said his former teammate, Kent State DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, has also received a lot of NFL interest. “It’s pretty much just a waiting game.
“But it’s been a great process and a good ride.”
Canfield High graduate Sean Baker, who set Ball State’s career interception mark as an all-conference safety, was also pleased with his pro day on March 13 and said he’s just hoping for a chance, whether it’s in the draft or as a free agent.
“As long as I get a call,” said Baker, who ran a 4.65 40 with 24 reps on the bench press. “Anyone, anytime, it doesn’t matter to me. I’ll just be grateful for the opportunity.
“I went out and gave my best effort and that’s all I can do. Now it’s in the scouts’ hands. You can’t worry about something you can’t control.”