Mikel Leshoure became the 57th college football player chosen in the 2011 NFL draft Friday, tabbed by the Detroit Lions. He bubbled over with excitement.
"This is the biggest moment of my life. I'm glad to find out what team picked me. I'm happy Detroit selected me. I look forward to getting up there and helping that program."
A Detroit representative called him with the good news. He left no doubt Leshoure was wanted there.
"He said they made a move. They traded up to pick me in the second round, and they're really excited getting to work with me. That was the best feeling in the world."
Leshoure spent time with the Lions during the evaluation phase. He was impressed with everything.
"When I went on my visit there, I had a good vibe with the coaches, all the staff, and the training room. Everything looked good. They wanted me, so I'm excited to play there."
He is expected to form a one-two punch with second year back Jahvid Best, a big back to compliment the speedster.
"I definitely think I can come in and add to the running game they have here now with Jahvid Best. I feel very confident. Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to it."
Some expected the 6'-1", 235 pounder to be selected higher, maybe even the first round. He may have felt some disappointment, but he didn't acknowledge it.
"Everybody has their own expectations. For me to get drafted wherever I did is a blessing. Whether it was a first round pick or anything beyond, it's still a blessing."
Even though a couple backs rated lower than him went before him?
"That's something I can't control. It is what it is. I wish those guys the best of luck."
The maturity he demonstrates now is not an act. Leshoure made a remarkable transformation this past season. He went from an unpredictable athlete on and off the field to a responsible, consistent leader. And he broke numerous records with his outstanding play, ending as one of the top-rated running backs in Illinois history.
In his junior campaign, he gained 1697 yards in 281 carries, an average of 6.0 yards per carry and 130.5 yards a game, scoring 17 touchdowns on the ground. He went over 100 yards in 9 games, with his best effort a phenomenal 330 yards against Northwestern in Wrigley Field. He also caught 17 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns.
Leshoure, a graduate of Champaign Centennial High School, was not highly recruited out of high school and arrived at Illinois overweight and out of shape. But little by little, he reduced body fat and increased strength to where he is now an impressive physical specimen.
He sat out several games his freshman year with a broken jaw, the result of a run-in with a teammate. He was also suspended one game his sophomore season. He ended up sharing time with Jason Ford in 2009 before taking over the rushing load as a junior. The rest, as they say, is history.
Leshoure chose to forego his final season at Illinois, and his selection in the NFL draft made that decision worthwhile.