By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Not many high school kids get offered a college football scholarship without ever having played high school football. It happened for Eric Ebron when a coach convinced him to attend a North Carolina football camp.
At the time, Ebron, the tight end whom the Detroit Lions selected 10th overall in the NFL draft Thursday, had not played football since his Pop Warner days. He took a step back from the sport after his grandfather died. The summer before his junior year, the coach of the high school team approached him.
“He was just like, ‘Man, you look like a football player,’” Ebron recalled with a grin, the same one that stayed on his face throughout his introductory press conference Friday. “I was like, ‘Man, I used to play football.’ And he was like, ‘Man, you need to play football.’ And then so on and so forth. He took me to a one-day camp at Carolina, and he was like, ‘You look like you got collegiate talent, so let’s see.’
“It was pouring down raining,” Ebron said, animated as he recalled the camp that jumpstarted his career. “I went out there – no gloves, no swag, looking like I never played football before, but I ran nice routes and caught everything in the rain, and they were just like, ‘Man, look, that dude there, we want him.’ And I was like, ‘Thanks.’”
Ebron’s father, Eric Sr., said Ebron received 22 scholarship offers, including one from Auburn. Ebron stuck with North Carolina because the Tar Heels offered him first. Obviously, it worked out well.
With the unique distinction of receiving a scholarship offer without ever having played a down of high school football, Ebron got some pushback once he joined the high school team.
“Some of these high school players, as he started gaining notoriety, were kind of jealous of him, and there was a little dissension there,” Ebron’s father said. “So he challenged [them to this drill] where it’s basically one-on-one, and you just try to stop the guy from scoring. Well, Eric went 11 straight times because he wanted every single guy to try to stop him. He was showing them, ‘Look, I’m willing to put in the work. I’m not a prima donna, this is not just some haphazard, flight-by-night success story. I’m going to put in the work.’
“And at that point,” he added, “his teammates gave him the utmost respect.”
Another hiccup on Ebron’s road to the NFL occurred when Ebron struggled academically his freshman year in college. His father said Ebron flunked out of North Carolina and had to write a letter to the dean to get reinstated.
“I was terrified,” Ebron’s father said. “As a parent, I was mortified, like ‘How do you mess this up?’ I was a little scared.
“There was no Plan B for him,” he continued, recounting the lecture he and his wife gave Ebron. “‘Eric, you’re going to be the 6-5 cashier at Wal-Mart because there’s no Plan B. You got this scholarship; you’re going to make it work.’ When he realized that, at North Carolina, at any major school, that you can flunk out, and – guess what? – there’s somebody behind you waiting, like as much as you thought you were ‘it,’ you can be out of there, another light went on. I think he kind of grew at that point. And – thank you Jesus – he’s here.”
Ebron snagged 62 passes for 973 yards at North Carolina his junior year. There has been some talk about Ebron dropping too many passes, perhaps the worst fault for a new Lions player to have considering fans’ aggravation at recent drops by another Detroit tight end, Brandon Pettigrew.
Some also disliked the pick by Detroit because they believed choosing a defensive player was a given considering how many leads the Lions surrendered in the second half of the 2013 season.
Ebron, cool and confident, takes any negativity in stride.
“The same way I handle everybody else talking about, ‘Aw man, he’s not that good, he can’t block’ – just ignore it, man,” Ebron said. “These guys never grew up with me. They don’t know my life story. They don’t know the things I’m capable of. So I just ignore it and I just go about doing what got me here. Obviously I’m first round, 10th pick, so I’m doing something right.
“Does it motivate me? I got other motivations in life,” Ebron added. “My mom – my mom motivates me. She struggled when we were younger. My dad motivates me – he struggled when we were younger. I have other motivations than to listen to somebody else talk about what they think they know.”