(Left) Edwardsville grad Vincent Valentine (98) tackles a UCLA player during his time playing at Nebraska. Valentine was selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. (Photo by Nebraska Athletic Communications) (Right) Rodney Coe (9), a 2011 EHS grad, tackles a Kent State player in 2015 playing for Akron. Coe was taken as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday. (Photo by Jeff Harwell)
The 2016 NFL Draft was a popular topic in Edwardsville.
The three-day draft went from Thursday through Saturday with two former Tigers getting serious looks. When the smoke cleared, 2012 EHS grad Vincent Valentine had been drafted by the New England Patriots and 2011 graduate Rodney Coe was taken as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys.
Valentine was taken in the third round on Friday — the 96th overall pick — by the Pats. Coe missed being drafted, but was gobbled up by the Cowboys on Saturday night after the draft’s completion.
“For those two players to get that opportunity, I’m happy for them,” Edwardsville football coach Matt Martin said. “Obviously they’re exceptional athletes and most people remember them here. What an exciting time for them. I wish them the best, I hope they have long careers and make some money at it, too.”
Valentine, a 6-foot-3, 320-pound nose tackle out of Nebraska, declared for the draft following his junior season.
He struggled with injuries during the ‘15 season but decided to make the plunge and declare for the draft. In his three years with the Cornhuskers he played in 36 games, logging 76 tackles and 4 sacks. He was honorable mention Big Ten All-Conference as a redshirt freshman.
Friday’s selection by the Pats validated Valentine’s decision to go into the draft.
“Definitely,” Valentine said in a conference call with the Patriots on Friday. “I knew I put it all in God’s hands. I knew He would take care of me. No matter where I went, I was going to work my hardest, put my all into it, so I mean I’m definitely happy with the pick that happened for me. But I mean everything happens for a reason and I decided to come out and I think it worked out great for me.”
Martin saw the potential for Valentine. He was a raw player at Edwardsville and when he went to Nebraska, prompting a redshirt season his first year there. Valentine got into better physical condition and continued to polish his tremendous abilities.
“Vincent was young,” Martin said. “He actually graduated at 17 and had room to grow. He actually grew an inch in college. We were about the same height and when he came back that following summer he was at least an inch taller than me.
“He just moves so well for a big man. He’s blessed, he’s a smart kid, he did very well on his ACT. He graduated early from Nebraska and that’s impressive. I think it says a lot about him as a person. If he wants to he can make a career in the NFL, there’s no doubt in my mind.
“He looked good (at Nebraska) and he played at a high level.”
Valentine said in the press conference he’s happy to be going to New England, which has won 13 AFC East titles in the past 15 years.
“I’m definitely a Patriots fan now, but growing up I was a Redskins fan,” Valentine said. “It was a little different, but I mean I always watched the Patriots growing up. They were one of the best teams when I was growing up, so I watched them all the time.”
He added, “They’ve been dominant. They have Hall of Fame guys, guys that are Pro Bowl, all those things. Just the Patriots as an organization are a great organization and top of the league obviously, so it’s always exciting to go to a team where you’ll be able to compete for a Super Bowl right in the beginning of your career. I’m just excited to get in there and learn, soak up all the information that I can and just get better every day.”
Coe was a defensive tackle at Akron who took some detours on his way to the NFL. Originally recruited to be a running back at Iowa, low ACT scores sent him to Iowa Western Community College to start his collegiate career. He spent two years there, shifting from running back to the defensive line in his second season. He then transferred to Iowa State, where he played his junior campaign, but was dismissed from the program after the season because of disciplinary reasons.
Coe transferred to Akron but had to sit out the 2014 season because of transfer rules, before playing well as a senior in ‘15 with the Zips. As a senior at Akron, Coe contributed 46 tackles, including 8.5 for losses, to go with 2 sacks and a 56-yard fumble recovery.
Coe went from a 6-3, 230-pound running back as a senior at EHS to now being listed as a 6-3, 305-pound defensive tackle.
He was the only undrafted free agent on Dallas who was brought in for a pre-draft visit.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Martin said. “It was my first experience being around a high school kid where you’re like, ‘This kid has an opportunity to play on Sundays.’ You just saw it. Again, it’s a very competitive world, so it comes down to doing the little things right, working hard every day and being competitive, being professional and that’s a challenge for all those guys. With Rodney, there’s no doubt he has the ability.”
Martin downplayed the position switch as being an issue for Coe.
“People talk about him playing running back in high school and people get hung up on positions too much,” Martin said. “That’s not uncommon; you’ll see kids play positions in high school — maybe a quarterback getting moved to wide receiver or defensive back. It’s not as common at the pro level, but (Brian) Urlacher was a safety in college and moved to middle linebacker. I don’t worry so much about Rodney’s experience; he’s played enough D-line in college.
“He’s extremely powerful, explosive, strong — he’s got all the things you’re looking for to be a NFL player. I can see why NFL teams would be interested in him.”
If Valentine and Coe stick, they will become the fifth and sixth former Tigers to play in the NFL. Wilbur Volz (Buffalo, 1949), Bob Hoskins (San Francisco, 1970-75), Morris Bradshaw (Oakland, New England, 1974-82) and Steve Carpenter (New York Jets, St. Louis Cardinals, 1980-81) are the four previous EHS grads to play in the NFL.
Former Tiger Antonio “Chico” Brown also played on the 1999 practice squad with the St. Louis Rams, but never made the NFL roster.
Valentine became only the third to be drafted. Hoskins was taken in the 16th round (406th pick) of the 1969 NFL Draft, while Bradshaw was selected in the 4th round (93rd pick) of the 1974 NFL Draft.
Martin doesn’t know if Valentine and Coe’s successes will affect his program, but he urged the community to celebrate their accomplishments.
“I don’t know; I’ve never been here before, but it’s got to be exciting for the town of Edwardsville and it’s got to be exciting for Edwardsville football fans,” Martin said. “You root for your kids. If they don’t have an opportunity to play college football, you root for them to have a great career, you root for them to be successful parents and husbands. In this case you’re rooting for these kids to be in the NFL. You want them all to do well and represent Tiger football well. Hopefully we’ve taught them something to help them get this far; maybe it’s a small something, but we taught them something.”
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