BOGACZYK: Hewitt Takes More than NFL Hopes to Miami
The Word on the Herd-May 6, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- This was going to be a memorable weekend for Neville Hewitt. And that was before the emotion and the excitement was doubled.
On Saturday, Hewitt will become the first member of his family to gain a college degree, when Neville Jermaine Hewitt is among the College of Business grads in Marshall University's spring ceremony.
However, the former Thundering Herd linebacker won't be at Big Sandy Superstore Arena for the ceremony. The 2014 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year will be in his second day of rookie camp in Davie, Fla., with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
"This is the opportunity of lifetime," said Hewitt, who leaves here Thursday to fly to south Florida for Friday's camp opening. "The only reason I'd miss graduation is for this."
Hewitt landed an NFL shot last Saturday within hours after the league's 80th draft was completed. He is one of four undrafted free agent linebackers the Dolphins are bringing in. Hewitt, Penn State's Mike Hull, Cincinnati's Jeff Luc and Utah State's Zach Vigil combined for 550 tackles as 2014 seniors.
Hewitt also is one of four 2014 Herd seniors to get a free agent shot -- joining tight end Eric Frohnapfel (San Diego), center Chris Jasperse (Cincinnati) and defensive lineman James Rouse (Houston) -- after cornerback Darryl Roberts was a seventh-round selection by New England.
It seems a good opportunity for Hewitt, as a position that was in flux for Miami last season.
Hewitt, of Conyers, Ga., has a three-year contract for the league minimum at $1.575 million, which breaks down to $435,000, followed by $525,000 and $615,000. Of course, he has to make the roster to get that.
"I've been optimistic about it all along," Hewitt said.
Hewitt's 123 tackles for the nationally ranked Herd led Conference USA in 2014. In two seasons with Marshall as a junior college transfer from Georgia Military, he proved to be a quick study as well as a quick hitter.
One pre-draft scouting report via NFL.com said Hewitt "has flown under the radar in part because he lacks the ideal size and strength teams like at middle linebacker, but could help immediately on special teams. He is a physical, aggressive and instinctive run stopper."
The Herd's two previous C-USA Defensive Players of the Year -- ends Vinny Curry and Albert McClellan -- both made the NFL and are still in the league. The rangy, 6-foot-2 Hewitt hopes to make it a trio, and he's added 10 pounds to the 220 he carried last season for the Herd to enhance his chances.
"I worked out for the Patriots here at Marshall," Hewitt said when asked about his pre-draft experiences following the Herd's Pro Day on March 11. "I went to Atlanta to do their area workout, and the Falcons head coach (Mike Smith) stopped me and told me to keep working hard. After what he told me, it really helped me out.
"Then I'd been talking to coach Mark Duffner of the Dolphins (linebackers coach) throughout the whole process and it got to the point where he started calling me every other day ... The other opportunities were Atlanta, and my agent (David Schuman) mentioned New York -- the Giants -- as well."
As the NFL Draft turned to Rounds 4-7 last Saturday, Hewitt said he was anxious.
"Coach Duffner called me at the beginning of the fifth round and said they had four picks in that round (9, 13, 14, 20) so I didn't know what they were going to do," Hewitt said. "He ended up texting me and said they'd be making me a Dolphin by the end of the day.
"I just felt comfortable with them during the whole process, felt like they really wanted me. I told my agent that if it was possible, that's where I wanted to go.
"Coach Duffner told me they'd put me at the Will (weakside) position and have me play on special teams. He just told me to go out there and go full speed, the way I played here. That sounded fine to me."
Duffner, the former University of Maryland head coach who is entering his 19th season as an NFL linebackers coach (Bengals, Packers, Jaguars and Dolphins) made an impression and got an impression, too.
For that, Hewitt thanked Adam Fuller, the linebackers coach with the Herd, and veteran Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.
"Coach Heater, he helped me a lot and his defense helped me," said Hewitt, who turned age 22 a month ago. "It wasn't too complex. You just used your skills and it gave you a chance to show your skills. The linebacker had to make the right call for the defense to work properly and once that happened, if everyone did their jobs, then it was simple.
"Coach Fuller helped me out a whole lot through this process, told me I'd definitely have to gain weight, had me over there in the indoor facility at 6:30 in the morning doing drills. When I got injured, after (neck) surgery last year, he was the one who really emphasized watching film, and that helped me develop.
"He always pushed me. And with the Dolphins, he and Coach Heater put in good words for me. One thing Coach Duffner told me ... He mentioned that when Coach Heater and Coach Fuller told him I was a quality guy, that goes a long way with him, and I appreciate that."
Hewitt said his optimism grew during that Pro Day experience in the Herd's indoor facility in front of personnel men from nine NFL clubs. The linebacker had a 4.64 time in the 40, broad jumped 9-11 and had a 37-inch vertical jump.
"I felt like going into Pro Day that someone was going to notice me and then when I was working out, I had people tell me I was really good in space," Hewitt said. "Coach Fuller always told me that when he had me working out, and I realized that -- being good in space -- was going to sell me the most.
"And then when I went to Atlanta and the coach was really surprised, and with the Patriots, working out here, they liked the way I moved. I think they were surprised, too. Lateral, forward, backward.
"I guess my history at safety really helped out there. I never played linebacker until I came here to Marshall. Having played safety helps me a lot as far as playing special teams. You're running around a lot, covering more of the field. At safety, I wasn't that close to the ball. The more you can do, the better you are."
Besides Duffner, Hewitt handled a couple of other phone calls during Saturday's final day of the draft -- from his mother. In mid-December at the Herd's football banquet and then in an interview, Hewitt revealed that his mom, Deon Jones, has been in a rural Georgia prison for six years for drug trafficking charge.
"My mom called me during the draft and I told her, `Mom, I'm going to have to call you back; I'm waiting for a call,'" Hewitt said. "She called me after the draft and that time when I was on the phone with her, that's when I got the call from Coach Duffner on the contract and stuff."
It wasn't lost on Hewitt that Sunday is Mother's Day. "We practice Friday and Saturday and are off for Mother's Day before we go back to work," he said.
Hewitt said he's still uncertain how much more prison time his mother is scheduled to serve, "but one thing I know -- once I finally make the team and stuff, we're going to start working on that."
Missing graduation tugs at him, too.
"It's great, being a graduate," Hewitt said. "I'm the first person in my family to graduate from college and that's special. And I'm going to ask Miss Tara (Helton, football academic advisor and director of the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program) if I can come back one day and walk (in graduation) just so my family and younger siblings can see it.
"I want them to see that somebody did it, and maybe one day they can do it as well."
Asked how long he's thought about wanting to play in the NFL, the former Herd linebacker went back to his formative years. A native of Silver Spring, Md. -- a suburb of Washington, D.C. -- Hewitt lived there until moving to Georgia when he was 13 and entering the eighth grade.
"Yes, sir, the Redskins were my favorite team," he said.
Game-clinching interception for the Herd's first Conference USA Championship ... Conference defensive player of the year ... The first Marshall player to lead C-USA in tackles in one season ... First graduate in his family ... NFL opportunity ...
"It's been special," he said. "This is why you play. Growing up, I always thought about playing in the NFL. When I was younger, I played Pop Warner in Silver Spring before I moved to Georgia. My Pop Warner coach, Mike Wills, (of the White Oak Warriors) told me, `You're probably going to play in the NFL one day.'
"And I'm thinking, `I'm only 12 years old! Wow!' I just always worked hard and tried to stay motivated. I always told myself if I made it college -- because where I came from in Georgia, I never saw people go to college ... But I told myself if I made it to college, I'm going to the NFL."
One of Hewitt's 2013 Herd teammates, defensive end Alex Bazzie, is a Silver Spring product, too. After a brief NFL tryout a year ago, Bazzie went north and had a big rookie season for the BC Lions in the CFL.
If he doesn't reach his NFL dream, would Hewitt consider following Bazzie?
"Sure, I'm willing to go there, whatever it takes," Hewitt said. "But I'm focused on going to Miami and do what I need to do."
Maybe there's something in the water. Hewitt is regularly seen on the Marshall campus and in the Shewey Building lugging around a plastic gallon jug.
"Water," he said. "I drink a gallon and a half a day ... Just hydration."
Well, a Dolphin does need water, right?