Saturday, February 26, 2011
Posted: 11:12 a.m.
By Reuben FrankCSNPhilly.com
INDIANAPOLIS - Lehighs Will Rackley would get down low for leverage, eye up his target, brace himself for the big moment and take his best shot.
And were not even talking about football. Were talking about photography.
Rackley, a senior at Lehigh University, made a name for himself playing football and is one of the top guards available in this years draft, but hes accomplished at a few other things, too.
In fact, if you were driving around Lehighs campus on Bethlehems South Side this past summer heading to Eagles training camp and you saw a 6-foot-4 guy with dreadlocks lying on his stomach in the weeds taking pictures of Bethlehems massive, abandoned steel mill complex, that was Rackley.
The images Rackley took of the old steel mill for his photography class also earned him first place in the My South Side Photography Contest sponsored by the university.
This is no one-dimensional kid.
Photography is something Ive always enjoyed, Rackley said in an interview at Lucas Oil Stadium, where hes participating in the NFL Scouting Combine. Ive always been an artsy-type of guy. Ive always been able to draw and been interested in creative kinds of things. When I needed a subject for my photography class, I thought the steel mill would be perfect.
I wasnt able to get inside, but I got as close as legally possible. Its a pretty important part of Bethlehems history, and I wanted to show it in a way that nobody had ever really seen it before.
If youre getting the idea that Rackley isnt your average jock, youre right. His parents both sing, one of his brothers is a music producer, another is an actor and model, and Rackley was raised in an atmosphere where the arts were just as important as football.
I just come from an artsy family, he said. Ive always been around that kind of thing.
Rackley may have a future as a professional photographer, but first theres a professional football career to get started.
Depending which expert you ask, Rackley is anywhere from the No. 3 to No. 5 interior lineman available in the draft. He was a Division 1-AA (Football Championship Subdivision) All-America and the only four-year offensive line starter Lehigh has had in the last 20 years.
But Rackley wasnt always such a bright prospect. Coming out of Riverdale (Ga.) High School, just south of Atlanta, he was 6-foot-2, 260 pounds with a 3.4 GPA.
He was better-known for academics than his athletics and built more like a fullback than an NFL guard.
I wasnt too highly recruited coming from a triple-option team, but fortunately I had good academics out of high school, Rackley said. I was getting recruited by a lot of Patriot League schools Lehigh, Lafayette, Colgate. Georgia Tech recruited me for a small bit, but it was nothing serious. I took my visit to Lehigh and loved the atmosphere, loved the academic tradition, loved the football tradition, so it was a good fit.
One side benefit of attending Lehigh is that an NFL team happens to hold training camp on your campus. So during summers, Rackley often found himself lifting in the A. Haigh Cundey Varsity House, which also serves as the Eagles locker room during camp.
So long before he was considered an NFL prospect, Rackley had the opportunity to watch actual NFL offensive linemen practicing on his own field.
I used to go out there every morning and watch them, watch the o-linemen practice and coach (Juan) Castillo, he said. I was fortunate enough to get a field pass and after practice got to talk to coach Castillo he just told me to keep at it, reminded me that a lot of the guys he had were small-school guys. It was definitely encouraging hearing that from him. I would look at his guys and size myself up against them. I was like, I can definitely do what those guys are able to do.
Rackley remembers standing out there at practice with Lehigh offensive line coach Brett Sawyer studying Castillo as he ran his guys through specific drills.
A couple weeks later, we were doing those exact same drills, he said with a laugh.
Encouragement came from guys like Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan, who told Rackley to keep working hard and following his dream.
Those were some big guys, he said. They towered over me.
But in the Patriot League, Rackley towered over almost everybody else. He grew to be a dominating player and all-conference lineman by his sophomore year and All-America by his junior year.
Rackleys goal every time he lined up against an overmatched defensive lineman was simple: I went out there to try to embarrass guys.
He embarrassed enough guys that hes now projected as a likely third-round pick in the NFL draft in April. Only one Lehigh player has ever been drafted higher than the fifth round, and that was 37 years ago, when the Falcons took quarterback Kim McQuilken in the third round with the 69th pick overall in the 1974 draft. The only Lehigh player drafted in any round in the last 25 year was defensive lineman Rich Owens, the Redskins fifth-round pick in 1995.
Rackley is out to change all of that.
Im here to prove myself as a player, proving that guys can jump from I-AA to the pros, Rackley said. Playing football is playing football. It doesn't matter where youre from, it matters how you play.
E-mail Reuben Frank at email@example.com
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