Ex-Sun Devils Happy to Get a Chance in the NFL

Whether they got picked towards the end of the draft or were signed to a free agent contract, Jimmy Verdon, Justin Burks (pictured), and Chris McKenzie are all elated to be going to NFL mini-training camps in the upcoming weeks.

Jimmy Verdon had to wait quite a while to hear his name called, as he was drafted in the 7th round (232nd pick overall) by the New Orleans Saints, which means that he will reunite with Sun Devil fullback Mike Karney. "It was kinda crazy because I was talking to him earlier in the day and we were joking around about playing on the same team," said Verdon. "He was giving me crap about being an NFL rookie in two weeks."

When the defensive lineman did hear his name called, the first feeling that went through his mind was one of reprieve. "I felt very relived," he admitted, "especially going to a good team like the Saints. I was disappointed that I got drafted late, but I did get picked and you can't change that."

Verdon stated that through out the second day of the draft, it was hard for him to predict when or where he would go. "It was luck of the draw," he commented. "Teams were calling me all day saying they were gonna pick me, and then they go ahead and pick someone else. I'm thinking ‘why would you call me if you're not gonna pick me?'

"(New Orleans head coach) Coach Haslett said that he walked up to the draft board and couldn't believe I was still up there," Verdon continued. "He told the guys there ‘let's pick him and get this thing done." True to the unpredictability of the draft, Verdon didn't consider the Saints as serious of a suitor as other teams. "I only talked with them in the combine," he explained. "It was a good conversation but nothing real serious. Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs were calling me on draft day and I thought I was going there."

Getting picked at the 232nd spot rather than the very last pick at 255th, meant that Verdon missed out on the famous ‘Mr. Irrelevant' title, which receives many perks including an all-paid expenses trip the happiest place on earth. "Oh yeah I'm mad!" quipped Verdon who's married and a father of two. "They couldn't hold on for a little more time to pick me? I could use that trip to Disneyland (smile)."

All jokes aside, Verdon was pleased with how his NFL draft played out. "Especially in the late rounds sometimes it's better to be a free agent than get drafted. But I'm very happy to get drafted and go to a great team."

Ex-Sun Devil linebacker Justin Burks wasn't lucky to get drafted, but the bottom line for him is that he will get a shot at the NFL, after getting signed as a free agent by the San Diego Chargers. "Yeah, that all that matters," said Burks. "All the new guys still have to make the team and I will try my hardest to get on the team and stick on."

Burks was naturally disappointed, perhaps even surprised, that he wasn't actually picked in the draft. "I thought I was going to get picked in the 5th or 6th round," he said. "A lot of teams called me and said I was gonna be their next pick. I guess it didn't work out that way. "

"I had calls from the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, and Green Bay Packers," Burks continued. "They were all interested but come draft day they went a different direction. Chargers were obviously very interested. I talked to their coaches a lot and we built a relationship. I could tell they wanted me more than the other ones."

The linebacker, who grew up in Southern California, was pleased to get signed by the Chargers. "It definitely works out," he commented. "It's only a hop and a scotch away from my family, and I got a cousin who lives in San Diego. I know I'll be straight."

The Chargers have pegged Burks at middle linebacker, and the ex-Sun Devil was excited to be learning from such great players as Donnie Edwards. In a way, he feels that his pro career can be an extension of his last season in the maroon and gold.

"My senior year went great," said Burks. "I put in a lot of hard work and it showed on the field. I gave all that I had. We were on a mission to have a good season and win the Sun Bowl and we took care of business. The 4-3 (defensive alignment) got to show everyone what I can do. But it's not over yet, I gotta show the NFL what I can do."

When asked of his fondest memories as a Sun Devil, Burks mentions right from the start the feeling of camaraderie. "Meeting everyone and building friendships was great," he stated. "I know I'm gonna keep in touch with some guys for a long time. I'm happy to be part of Sun Devil history. My best game memory was the Sun Bowl. We were hitting hard on defense and we got to win the game in the end. It was a lot of fun."

Fellow former ASU defender Chris McKenzie was also signed as a free agent, and he will be joining center Drew Hodgdon for a mini-camp at the Houston Texans.

"It really doesn't matter that I didn't get drafted," said McKenzie. "All I wanted was a shot. I would love to see my name called on TV, but it didn't happen like that. But I'm happy that the Texans signed me and I'm gonna down there and show them all that I have."

The cornerback feels that he's coming into a good situation with the level of talent on the team. "They drafted a corner in the first round last year (Dunta Robinson) and they have Phillip Buchanan," McKenzie remarked. "I know I can learn a few things from those guys and move right along."

McKenzie said that he wasn't surprised that the Texans signed him, since they showed much interest leading up to the draft, as they did they did with fellow Sun Devil Hodgdon. "Yeah that will help to go to the same team as Drew," McKenzie commented, "but no matter where I go it's all about business. Playing now is about keeping a job. It doesn't matter if I have a friendly face or not on the team. Coming from New York to Arizona I didn't have any friendly faces waiting for me (smile)."

For someone like McKenzie who made that cross-country journey to play football, it's easy to put the last few months, as well as the last few years all in perspective. "The draft is just funny," he said "You see players that go before you in the draft that shouldn't. But everything happens for a reason. Everything I got I had to work for it – nothing was given to me. Coming from junior college to ASU, and from ASU to the Texans – it's all about working hard. I just have to go out there and do what I have to do."

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