There’s draft buzz over a powerful guard from Villanova, but he doesn’t play for Jay Wright.
Nope, this Wildcats’ guard doesn’t get prematurely bounced out of the postseason. Ben Ijalana helped Nova to the 2009 FCS championship on the gridiron and could sneak his way into the first round of tomorrow’s NFL draft.
“Shoot, I just want to play in the NFL. Where I get drafted or how high doesn’t matter much to me,” Ijalana said. “I want to be in the league, that’s what is important. From there, it is up to me to prove myself.”
The 21-year-old Ijalana hails from New Brunswick, N.J., and could potentially be the first FCS player taken in the draft. Three years ago, Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco surprised many by going from relative unknown to a first-round pick when Baltimore traded up to No. 18. Like Flacco, Ijalana has dreams of representing a division oft overlooked for BCS conference talent by NFL scouts.
“When Joe got picked that high, my mouth was wide open,” said the 6-foot-4, 317-pound guard. “We’re really not getting the attention of the BCS schools and the big-time programs because we play for Villanova, but the standard is really good.”
Lightly recruited out of high school, Ijalana would prove that the programs that bypassed him made a mistake in not seriously looking at him. He is good in opening up holes for the ground game and his footwork has impressed many. He can pull with the best linemen in the nation and his footwork has been likened to that of a tight end.
He was the only FCS player named to the Outland Trophy watch list last year, given to the nation’s most outstanding offensive lineman. This past March, he received the Maxwell Award as the Tri-State Player of the Year, given by the Maxwell Football Club.
But despite starting as a freshman, Ijalana didn’t begin to think NFL till a year later.
“It was definitely my sophomore year, my offensive line coach told me that I could potentially make the NFL,” Ijalana said. “I was first team all conference and I wasn’t even thinking about that, I didn’t think it was a possibility really. From that point on, I started paying closer attention to football, to watching the game more. I started working harder towards that goal of playing in the NFL, a goal I never really thought seriously about before.”
And work he did, to the point that he has climbed draft boards to be a consensus top 50 player in the draft. A sports hernia injury earlier this year derailed him in his preparation for the draft, keeping him from taking the field at the NFL combine, but that doesn’t worry the soft-spoken and often self-deprecating lineman.
“I proved whatever I need to prove on the playing field for four years,” Ijalana said. “I think that I stack up really well with the top lineman in the draft. I’m looking forward to one day proving it.”