Central Michigan has enjoyed quite a bit of success in the past decade, and as a result they have sent numerous players to the NFL. With NFL training camps getting underway soon, we take a look at the current Chippewas in the NFL.
Joe Staley - OT - San Francisco 49ers
Staley has been a fixture at left tackle for San Francisco ever since he was drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Entering the prime of his career, Staley had perhaps his best season in 2011, starting for a Super Bowl contending team and earning his first Pro Bowl nod. He signed a 6-year contract prior to the 2009 season, so he is locked up as a 49er until 2017. He has also developed quite a reputation for his personality, conducting interviews for his self titled "Joe Show" and entertaining his followers on Twitter (@jstaley74).
Antonio Brown - WR - Pittsburgh Steelers
Drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft, CMU fans had very few doubts that he would out perform his draft position. As one of the most exciting players the Chippewas had ever seen, Brown transcended the WR position in Mount Pleasant and was one of the nation's top returners . After many Steelers fans thought he would struggle to make the team, Brown earned playing time as a rookie and made a memorable clasp to the helmet catch against the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. In 2011, it was fair to say he burst onto the NFL scene and is a potential superstar in the making after he caught 69 passes for 1,108 yards and two touchdowns. He has also been tremendous in the return game, and he earned his first Pro Bowl bid last season as a returner. He was chosen by teammates as Steelers MVP and has been an excellent role model in the community, including starting the Antonio Brown Foundation.
Cullen Jenkins - DL - Philadelphia Eagles
Jenkins is the elder statesman of Chippewas in the NFL, as he was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2003 draft. He started his career with the Green Bay Packers before signing a 5-year and $25 million dollar contract with the Eagles. He started all 16 games in Philly last season, registering 5.5 sacks and 40 tackles. For his career he has 34.5 sacks, and he is considered one of the best interior pash rushers in the NFL.
Dan LeFevour - QB - New York Giants
It has been a tough road for LeFevour, arguably one of the top players to ever play in the Mid-American Conference. While he achieved demigod status in college, his skill set has not translated to the NFL as of yet. He was drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft by his hometown Chicago Bears, but was abruptly released following training camp. He caught on with the Cincinnati Bengals and finished the season as their #3 QB. The Bengals would waive him after the season, and he wound up on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad for a short duration. Jacksonville signed him off the Colts practice squad in February 2011, but he was released just this month. He is currently trying out with the New York Giants.
Frank Zombo - LB - Green Bay Packers
Perhaps the surprise Chippewa (not to CMU fans) in the NFL, Zombo was a collegiate defensive end whom the Packers brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He promptly made the team, and pushed his way into a starting role, starting eight games as a rookie and collecting 38 tackles and 4.0 sacks. His 2011 season would be hampered by injuries, limiting him to only five games. He will open the 2012 season competing for a starting spot, but the Packers brought in some competition when they drafted USC's Nick Perry in the first round of the 2012 draft. Zombo was recently named a captain for the 2012 Michigan High School All-Star football game, held at Alma College (moved from CMU due to NCAA rules) on June 30th.
Nick Bellore - LB - New York Jets
One of the fiercest competitors to ever don the Maroon and Gold, Bellore enjoyed an incredible collegiate career as a four year starter, tallying 472 tackles from his middle linebacker spot. He went undrafted following the 2011 NFL Draft, but Jets head coach Rex Ryan made him a priority and rushed to sign him as an undrafted free agent. He made the team as a reserve linebacker, and he saw action in all 16 games on special teams.
Matt Berning - LB - New York Jets
In an odd twist of fate, Berning would join his collegiate teammate Bellore as an undrafted free agent with the Jets. He spent the entire season being resigned and released from the Jets practice squad, and he is currently on the squad and hoping to make the team in 2012.
Josh Gordy - CB - St. Louis Rams
Gordy was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010 by the Green Bay Packers, seeing action in two games a rookie. He would move on for a short stint with Jacksonville, but would sign with St. Louis prior to the 2011 season, and he would become a key member of the Rams secondary. Last season he saw action in 14 games, starting nine, and he tallied 43 tackles and three interceptions. He is expected to compete for playing time in 2012, but the competition will be fierce as the Rams drafted two corners (Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson) in this year's draft, and also signed former Pro Bowl corner Cortland Finnegan from the Titans.
- OL Rocky Weaver had a short stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent this year, but he was released after a week.
- WR Kito Poblah was drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers No.1 overall in 2011 CFL Supplemental Draft, but he had his first season cut short by injuries and saw action in only three games. The injuries were even more disappointing because he won a starting spot out of camp. But he is healthy in 2012, and there is genuine buzz around Poblah as a potential big time player in the CFL. RB Carl Volny (Poblah's cousin) is also a member of the Blue Bombers, and he is currently recovering from an ACL injury.