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Three Sons of Pro Fighters Poised to Pursue Their NFL Dreams

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  • Three Sons of Pro Fighters Poised to Pursue Their NFL Dreams

    Click image for larger version  Name:	holyfoeld_crop_north.jpg Views:	1 Size:	80.7 KB ID:	12891

    By Bernard Fernandez

    Maybe, if former heavyweight David Long Sr. and former middleweight Sanderline Williams had become highly paid and celebrated world champions, their sons would have chosen to follow in their fighting fathers’ footsteps. Then again, perhaps not. Look at what the great Evander Holyfield accomplished in boxing, but still his athletically gifted son preferred to make his mark in another sport that also requires its participants to hit and be hit.

    The NFL draft is a frenzied, three-day meat market in which 32 league-member teams, after analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of hundreds of draft-eligible college players, make their selections in rounds one through seven, hoping that at least a couple of their rookie additions improve their rosters and thus their chances at going to the Super Bowl. And if the 254 drafted players aren’t enough to provide just the right youthful infusion of talent, there’s also a glut of undrafted free agents to be signed, with the same goal in mind.

    No less impressive than the painstakingly thorough work of NFL scouts and front offices is that of ESPN and the NFL Network, which every year somehow manage to put together video highlights of every drafted player, even those who played at small colleges and whose games never make it onto anyone’s television screen. In showing those clips, the TV talking heads at the draft, which this year was staged in Nashville, Tenn., also have anecdotes and informational tidbits to pass along to viewers.

    Thus were NFL draft junkies – of which I confess to be one – alerted to the sizes, statistics and stories of Dre’Mont Jones and David Long Jr., draftees who might or might not go on to pro football stardom with their new teams. And you can bet a lot more attention would have been devoted to Elijah Holyfield, a potential draftee who wasn’t one of the chosen 254 but shortly thereafter signed a free-agent contract. Elijah’s lineage is certain to be a hot topic when he reports to training camp with the Carolina Panthers this summer.

    Given his higher draft position and the elite status of the college program for which he played – the Ohio State defensive end was taken in the third round, No. 71 overall, by the Denver Broncos – Jones likely will get a longer look in camp than either Long, a linebacker for the West Virginia Mountaineers who went to the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round, No. 188 overall, or Holyfield, the former Georgia running back whose legendary father won’t be of much assistance if his kid doesn’t show enough in camp to convince his coaches he’s NFL material.

    Stats? Here they are for Jones, a 6-foot-3, 281-pounder who put together some commendable numbers during his junior season with the Buckeyes: in 14 games, he totaled 8½ sacks, 13 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one defensive touchdown scored and one interception. His pre-draft analysis describes him as “an undersized defensive tackle with above-average length and a quick first step. He’s a disruptive one-gap run-defender. He has heavy hands and flashes some violence with his initial punch rushing the passer.”

    That “violence with his initial punch” bit might come from his father, Sanderline Williams, who was a pretty good middleweight from Cleveland until he began mixing it up with the division’s top performers. Williams, now 61, posted a 24-15-1 record with 14 knockouts, but at one point he was 22-4 with those 14 wins inside the distance. It’s hard to fault someone, though, for failing to maintain career momentum when you consider that he twice fought James Toney (earning a draw in their first matchup) as well as single bouts with Gerald McClellan, Reggie Johnson, Nigel Benn and Iran Barkley, all of whom at one point were, like Toney, world champions. Oh, one more thing to be considered: despite sharing the ring with a Murderer’s Row of opponents, Williams was stopped just once, by Lindell Holmes, in the ninth round of a scheduled 10-rounder on June 29, 1985.

    It stands to reason that his pop taught Dre’Mont some boxing moves, if only to better protect himself on the street as the occasion warranted. But even if pro football doesn’t work out for the first-team All-Big Ten player and he eventually tries his hand at boxing, it almost certainly won’t be at Williams’ old weight class. Jones would have to shed 121 pounds to get down to middleweight, a slimming-down which, if nothing else, might net him a commercial for Nutrisystem.

    David Long Jr., at 5-11¼ and 227 pounds, is already a virtual clone of his heavyweight father, but a bit on the smallish side for an NFL linebacker. His pre-draft analysis lists him as “an undersized linebacker with below-average length and top-end speed. He’s an instinctive run defender who fills gaps and sifts through traffic between the tackles. He masks below-average speed by reading the play quickly and chasing with great effort.”

    The elder Long, now 47, never went as far in the fight game as did Sanderline Williams, but he did post a 12-5-2 record with eight KOs as a pro. The Cincinnati native also has the distinction of sharing the ring with future WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, who starched him in one round on Nov. 26, 2011. But at first glance that bout did not appear to be the total mismatch that the outcome suggested. Although Wilder came in at 19-0, all of the wins in abbreviated fashion, Long Sr., who weighed 228 pounds to Wilder’s 215½, was a respectable 11-1-2 (7) at the time.

    It was a given that Elijah Holyfield would be picked in the later rounds of the draft, if at all, after he ran the 40-yard dash in an abysmal (for a running back) 4.78 seconds at the NFL combine. But the 5-10, 217-pounder had a very productive junior season in the ultracompetitive Southeastern Conference, rushing for 1,018 yards and scoring seven touchdowns for Georgia despite splitting time with second-team All-SEC choice D’Andre Swift, a sophomore who rushed for 1,049 yards and scored 10 TDs. The pre-draft analysis on Elijah Holyfield notes that he “possesses good size and strength, but did not perform well at the combine except for the bench press (26 reps of 225 pounds). He’s a patient runner with strong leg drive, runs behind his pads and almost always falls forward at the end of runs. He lacks elite, make-you-miss suddenness, but shows good stop-start ability and has enough lateral ability to weave in and out of creases. He is more quick than fast and lacks a second gear when he hits daylight.”

    Given the fact that Elijah Holyfield boxed until he was 13 and showed some promise, it wouldn’t be a shocker if he ever got around to trying his hand at the sport that made his dad rich and famous. But, ironically, it is the son who lived the dream that his father first had as a young boy growing up in Atlanta as a huge fan of the Georgia Bulldogs and the NFL Atlanta Falcons.

    “Wasn’t nothing I wanted more than to play for that team (Georgia),” Evander hold me in August 2015, for a story I did on the highly recruited Elijah, the eighth of Evander’s 11 children by several women. “Herschel Walker had won the Heisman Trophy for Georgia (in 1982). It was my dream to be another Herschel Walker, and then to play for the Falcons and be another Dave Hampton.”

    But while it isn’t easy to be successful in pro football, there is at least one voice from beyond the grave that says that making it at the highest levels of boxing is even more difficult.

    “Athletically, boxing is the toughest profession in the world,” the late, great trainer Angelo Dundee once told me. “Just because you’re big and strong and great in football has nothing to do with it. I’ve seen it many times over the years, football players walking into gyms, asking me to train them into boxers. It never works. The qualities that a boxer has to have to be really good are different than in any other sport.”

    Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel
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