Two weekends ago on the Saturday night of April 28 Platteville’s Louis Nzegwu took his first step toward fulfilling his boyhood dream of playing in the NFL when he signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
In last week’s Platteville Journal I wrote an article reporting Nzegwu’s actually signing, his exploits at the University of Wisconsin as well as his prolific accomplishments during prep days here in Platteville. But I was unable to get in touch with Louis before last week’s deadline to get his reaction.
However, last Tuesday night I was able to catch up with our former prep standout through email and ask him about the free agent process, his thoughts on realizing a dream, his expectations about pro football and why he chose the Falcons.
Here are his candid and well thought out responses to my questions.
Jason Nihles: “First of all congratulations. Signing a professional contract is quite an accomplishment! Tell me, what does it feel like to be signed by an NFL team?
Louis Nzegwu: “It was a great feeling! It all happened really fast too. After the draft ended I had a slew of calls come in. I talked to five teams that were offering me the most and took a good look at their depth chart and defensive scheme then decided from there. Next thing I know I get a quick email, signed right away, and faxed it back. Shortly after I talked to Falcon representatives and I was officially a part their organization that night.
“Choosing the Falcons wasn’t an easy decision. I had to look at a bunch of teams and depth charts. It came down to a lot of things but in the end I believe I made the right decision. I am in an uphill battle though. The amount of defensive ends they have may force me to be on the practice squad for a portion of the season but looking at the bigger picture of things it could help me in the long run.
Nihles: “What are your thoughts on going to Atlanta? Why did you chose the Falcons?”
Nzegwu: “One of the reasons I liked Atlanta was because of their new defensive coordinator (Mike Nolan). He used to coach at Miami and ran the 3-4 defense and had players like Jason Taylor and Cameron Wake, who are somewhat undersized for defensive ends like myself. I was getting a lot of attention from teams that run the 3-4 defense, but in that scheme I would have to switch to the outside linebacker position. A lot of scouts found that more fitting for me because of my size and athleticism. Some scouts, however didn’t see me having success with it because of my limited experience in dropping into coverage, which led me to choose the Falcons. The Falcons defense will be running both the 4-3 and 3-4 defense. Because the team still has 4-3 personnel they can’t make the full transition to a 3-4 this year, but eventually will. This will be a perfect fit for me because I wouldn’t have to learn as much right away and I can learn a new position while still playing DE. The only problem is the depth chart. There are a total of seven defensive ends (including me) currently on the Falcons roster. There will be a lot of competition during training camp but hopefully being able to make switches between DE and OLB will give me an edge.”
Nihles: “What do you think about continuing your football career with former Wisconsin Badger teammates Peter Knoz and Bradie Ewing?” Note: Konz, an offensive lineman, was a second round draft pick, while Ewing, a former Richland Center standout, was a fifth round pick as a fullback.
Nzegwu: “Joining the organization with Peter and Bradie is going to be great. We are all Wisconsin natives so joining them I will have a little ‘home- away-from-home’ feeling and it will definitely make the transition to the NFL easier for all of us. Its kind of crazy to think that I’ve been involved with sports with Bradie for this long (going all the way back to high school), but I can’t wait for us to continue success with a new organization.
Nihles: “What kind of contract do you have? Are you guaranteed anything? Explain to me how a rookie free agent contract works.”
Nzegwu: “I signed a 3 year contract with the Falcons. My signing bonus is my guaranteed money and I receive that in the middle of May. I was considered a top free agent so my contract was negotiated in my favor, however in order for me to reach my true salary will be based on my performance.”
Nihles: “Did any teams have interest in drafting you?”
Nzegwu: “Talking to teams at my Pro Day they didn’t like the fact I played with a knee injury that could of potentially required surgery at the time. Scouts are really weary of knee injuries but I still had 15 teams interested in me leading up into the draft. Eight teams notified to me and my agent that I was on their draft boards. It gave me insurance that I could potentially be drafted and I started showing up in more mock drafts, however all those teams were planning to draft me in the later rounds.”
Nihles: “What were your thoughts/feelings during the last few rounds of the draft?”
Nzegwu: “As the draft went into the later rounds I got calls from two teams that let me know that it was going to be difficult for them to draft me because they were able to select some of their top players. As I watched the last few rounds I was kind of nervous. There were a lot of trades and the hopes of me getting drafted slowly faded away. During the draft I had no expectations but to be potentially drafted. I knew one thing for certain and that I would be given a chance (through free agency) no matter what.”
Nihles: “What are your thoughts about getting a chance to chase your dream of playing the NFL? What are your goals?”
Nzegwu: “Getting this chance to fulfill my dreams is a once in a lifetime thing and I hope to play football as long as my body can endure it. My (individual) goals won’t be anything different than they were in college and of course to win a Super Bowl one day. But I also understand the business of this sport. The one thing that I’m most proud of accomplishing up until this point was to be able to get my degree from such a prestigious college like University of Wisconsin before starting the whole draft process and now NFL. The NFL not only stands for National Football League, but also Not For Long. I’m just extremely grateful to be able to graduate before I start a new chapter in my life.”
Nzegwu will report to Atlanta this Thursday for a three-day Rookie Mini Camp that will be held May 11-13.
Nzegwu, a 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive lineman/outside linebacker, started all 27 games with the Badgers during his junior and senior seasons. He played in a total of 48 games at Wisconsin after redshirting in 2007 and amassed 53 unassisted tackles, 47 assisted tackles, 17.5 tackles for losses of 74 yards, 11 quarterback sacks, two fumbles caused and one fumble recovered. Nzegwu’s most memorable college play came in this year’s Rose Bowl loss to Oregon when he returned a fumble 33 yards for a touchdown.
During his high school career with the Hillmen, Nzegwu totaled 3,315 rushing yards on 491 carries and scored 39 total touchdowns. He also had eight sacks and was a two-time team MVP under coach Scott Statz.