A lot of players have remarkable stories about how they came to be in the NFL. There are plenty of those who were walk-ons, like Alex Highsmith. You have a player like Chukwuma Okorafor, who hadn’t even been familiar with the sport until he moved to this country as a teenager. And then there is Isaiahh Loudermilk, who grew up in a city so small they had to play 8-on-8 ball.
That background, growing up in Howard, Kansas with a population well south of 1,000, made the transition to college football with the Wisconsin Badgers a particularly difficult one. It’s almost like taking on a different sport. But if anything, that may make him more prepared for the transition he’s undergoing now to the NFL.
“It was extremely tough for me that first year because coming in as an 8-man football player from a small town, I didn’t know if people were going to take me seriously”, he told Taylor Eldridge for Kansas.com. “I went from practicing two hours a day and that’s it to putting in so many hours every day practicing, lifting, studying the playbook, doing film work. It was definitely a shock for me when I first got there, but I think I adapted well to it”.
While eight-man football is still fundamentally the same concept as the game that we’re all familiar with — and perhaps some of you may well have grown up in one of the many schools who play a variety with a reduced number of players — there are some significant departures. A three-man offensive line, for example. The fields are also narrower, and often shorter.
Most NFL prospects were originally recruited from high schools with strong football programs. Not a lot players from teams like the West Elk Patriots, like Loudermilk, even make it to the college level with a scholarship, let alone get drafted by an NFL team.
Of course, not everybody is the physical specimen that Loudermilk is, standing at over six and a half feet tall while working his way back up to the 290-pound range. The fact that he dropped considerable weight this offseason for his health only to be able to add it back quickly and in a more healthy manner is a testament to both his dedication and his pure physical attributes.
But he learned in college going up against future NFL players on Wisconsin’s offensive line that he would need more than raw physical ability. “Once I got here, I saw what NFL-caliber talent was like and I knew that I had the body and the frame to do it, I just had to work hard enough”, he said.
Clearly, he did, at least enough to get drafted. But he also knows there’s still plenty more work ahead of him before he can establish himself in the NFL, especially on a team like the Steelers, who have a deep depth chart along the defensive line right now.