There is something special about senior year in high school. It’s a particularly bittersweet time, the pinnacle of the high school experience meets the final year enjoying the friendships and familiarities developed over years.
For high school football players, it’s a similarly sentimental time, as it marks the final season spent under the Friday night lights. We spoke with several NFL players to discuss what makes this time in life so unique, and to share some of the lessons they’d like to impart to the Class of 2012. Our first installment featured Rams rookie defensive end Robert Quinn and the lessons he learned during a trying season. In our second edition we spoke with Cleveland Browns tight end Ben Watson. We recently profiled Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jason Avant and how he overcame a tough neighborhood and found his path to a long and rewarding football career, as well as safety George Wilson's interesting path to playing defense on the professional level. In this past week's installment we spoke with Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell about his journey from Denver to the desert and how he was proactive in his own recruiting process.
In this sixth and final installment of the series, we talked with former Florida State standout and star linebacker for the Oakland Raiders Kamerion Wimbley about the transitions and sacrifices he's made in his journey to the pros.
Whether he’s dropping into coverage, pursuing the running back or collapsing the pocket with regularity, Kamerion Wimbley can be seen all over the field on Sundays as an outside linebacker for the Oakland Raiders. It’s safe to say that he learned to develop a versatile approach to the game from his days in high school at Northwest (Wichita, Kan.), where he spent time literally all over the field getting snaps as a linebacker, lineman, quarterback, receiver and punter.
"It was really important to get snaps all over the field because it helped me become a better student of the game and it challenged both my athleticism and my mind," said Wimbley, who currently leads the Raiders with seven sacks on the season.
Wimbley has been asked to adapt on the field for much of his football career, a testament to his renowned physical prowess but also a nod to his willingness to learn.
"Going from my days at Northwest and at Florida State, where I spent much of the time on the defensive line, to the NFL, where I made the switch to linebacker, was difficult but necessary," said Wimbley, who the Cleveland Browns selected with the 13th overall pick in 2006.
The transition proved to be an immediate success, as Wimbley led all AFC rookies with 11 sacks to go along with his 62 total tackles that freshman professional season. His favorite goal on the field, whether as a defensive end or manning a linebacker spot, hasn't changed since his days at Northwest.
"From high school to college and definitely in the NFL, there is nothing better than getting a sack in a big moment," said Wimbley, who recently tallied four sacks in a game versus the Chargers. "The rush and the emotion of a sack is similar to a big catch, run or a touchdown at the right moment in a game. It’s an addiction in that I always want more.
"If you are going to make a position change you have to be open to it. You must study players who really play that role well and really understand what they do well and why they are successful. So much of it comes down to the little things and learning the techniques. You can have great teaching and great coaching, but you have to want to get better to make the switch successful."
In the spring of 2002 Wimbley made an even more dramatic transition, this one off the field, when he graduated from high school early and enrolled at Florida State for the spring semester.
"I had a high school coach who suggested that I consider going early," said Wimbley. "I was traveling pretty far from home to go to college and the idea was that it would give me a chance to adjust to the campus, my new team and really the college lifestyle. It’s one of the biggest transitions you make in life; learning to do the things off the field that are important, like learning to balance a budget, manage my time and motivate myself to do my school work was really important in making it a comfortable process.
"The easier you can make the transition off the field to college, the on-field transition will be that much smoother. I was able to get to know my teammates and coaches and it really helped me get on the field early. Of course, I had to sacrifice the end of my senior year and the time with my friends to do this, but it was all part of the sacrifice to reach my goals."