April 18, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
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Cloverleaf grad goes to Ravens in 4th round of NFL Draft

LAFAYETTE TWP. — Kyle Juszczyk is headed to the Super Bowl champions, and it came as no surprise to the 2009 Cloverleaf High graduate.

Using a compensatory selection in the fourth round, the Baltimore Ravens grabbed Juszczyk with the 130th pick of the NFL Draft on Saturday.

Kyle Juszczyk impressed a lot of NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. (AP PHOTO)

The Lafayette Township native joins Highland’s Jim Ritcher (1980) and Wadsworth’s Gene Gossaage (1958) as Medina County natives drafted by the NFL. Juszczyk is also the second-highest pick in Harvard history.

“It’s still really hard to put into words,” he said. “I’m just so excited, and it’s pretty surreal to say I’m a professional football player now. It’s what I do.

“Throughout the whole process, people asked me what are some of my favorite teams and I always mentioned Baltimore,” he added. “When I visited there, I loved the coaches and had a great relationship with them right away. I also loved the facilities and definitely saw it was a place I wanted to play.

“It never hurts to be a good team. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to go to.”

The 6-foot-1, 248-pounder was a two-time All-American tight end but entered the draft as a top fullback prospect after shining at the Senior Bowl. It became clear to Juszczyk throughout the pre-draft process that Baltimore was among the most interested of the 12 teams he visited.

Few teams provide a better opportunity for Juszczyk. The Ravens are considered one of the most stable franchises in the NFL, defeated San Francisco 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII and have three-time Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach on their roster as a potential mentor.

The 31-year-old Leach is in the final season of a three-year, $11 million contract, meaning Juszczyk is likely the heir apparent. Baltimore has already informed Juszczyk he will be used as an H-back in the mold of Philadelphia’s James Casey and Washington’s Chris Cooley.

On one play, he will make a hole for Pro Bowler Ray Rice. The next, he’ll catch a pass from Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco from the slot.

Toss in playing special teams and Juszczyk plans on being a big part of the Ravens’ future.

“Obviously, I have been in that position for the last six years, including high school, but to recognize I can be a guy who can do that at the professional level means a lot,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to what they have in store for me.”

A 22-year-old who has never forgot his roots, Juszczyk drove home from Harvard on Thursday and spent the weekend with about 40 family and friends. Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end for the Browns, made the call and later gave the phone to coach John Harbaugh to lay out the team’s plans.

At 1:43 p.m., Juszczyk saw his name on ESPN.

“The phone rang and it came up as Maryland, and then I looked at the TV and realized, ‘This is it,”’ Juszczyk told the Boston Herald. “I answered the phone, talked to Mr. Newsome and coach Harbaugh just as my name came across the screen.

“The whole room just kind of blew up. It was a pretty surreal feeling, and I can’t say I’ve ever felt happier in my life.”

Juszczyk, who was introduced during a conference call with Baltimore media Saturday, will play at Cleveland Browns Stadium at least once a year. The Ravens and Cleveland compete in the AFC’s North Division, and will play in Northeast Ohio on Nov. 3.

That’s a long ways off, however, as he’s focused on the present.

“Ozzie Newsome said, ‘Week 1 we’re at Denver and you’re running down on kickoff. Can I count on two tackles?’ and I said, ‘You can count on me for three,” Juszczyk said with a chuckle. “I have a lot to live up to.”

Juszczyk was the second of back-to-back picks for Baltimore, following Ohio State defensive lineman and Youngstown native John Simon. The No. 130 pick was compensation awarded to the Ravens after they lost guard Ben Grubbs, linebacker Jarret Johnson, defensive linemen Brandon McKinney and Cory Redding and safeties Haruki Nakamura, an Elyria native, and Tom Zbikowski to free agency.

With an ACT score over 30, Juszczyk was recruited heavily by Harvard out of high school. He was listed as a tight end but played all over the field, including fullback and in the slot. He holds Crimson career position records for receptions (125), yards (1,576) and touchdowns (22), and was a three-time All-Ivy League choice.

In high school, Juszczyk willed Cloverleaf to its only berth in the Division II playoffs following an injury to quarterback Cody Roberts. Wearing jersey No. 2, Juszczyk played tight end, quarterback, fullback and wide receiver during his three-year career, and was a second-team All-Ohio linebacker as a senior.

Juszczyk is best remembered for scoring the game-winning touchdown on a designed quarterback power in double-overtime against Highland. The Oct. 24, 2008, victory is considered one of the wildest games in county history.

At Harvard, Juszczyk majored in economics. Now, he’ll be using football to fatten his personal finances.

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.