Throwback Thursday: Whitney Mercilus

Catching up with former Fighting Illini defensive great Whitney Mercilus.

Most people know Whitney Mercilus as the hard hitting, quarterback sacking linebacker/defensive end that helped lead the Fighting Illini to the 2011 Kraft Hunger Bowl and subsequent first round NFL pick. However, what most people don't know are some of the activities that he engages in when he is away from the field.

"I love going to the symphony. I was just at the Houston Symphony," Mercilus said. "Its actually a little something that I am into. When I was a little kid, my dad took me and my brother and sister to symphonies, so we just went all the time."

Surprised? There's more. The current Houston Texan says he tries to engage in other things outside of the sport he loves, and music has always been something that helps him focus in all aspects of life.

"I just love classical music, especially when I was at Illinois studying for my medical classes and everything like that, I use classical music," Mercilus said. "Statistically it's supposed to help memory retention. It's pretty awesome."

During the offseason, when he is not preparing for a trip out to the concert hall, he heads to the golf course.

"I'm surprisingly becoming an avid golfer. I'm actually not too bad at golfing," he said. "The only thing is that I smack the ball very hard, and it will start going crazy and either curve right or left, but once I get it down, I can be a good golfer."

It is no surprise that the 6-foot-4, 257-pound linebacker hits the ball with too much force. Even though his strength is above average, he says getting stronger has been one of his main goals in the offseason. Mercilus hits the weight room everyday, to work on his "strength and brutality," but he mainly wants to improve his quickness.

"I do multiple things to get better with my speed. I do things that help quick reactions, like as soon as you see a ball drop you move, so that you time up with it. You have to be moving with the speed of the ball," Mercilus said. "Quick hand movements, I sometimes do karate, judo and things like that."

He is very confident in his ability to rush the passer and has proven that talent during his rookie year. He made his first career start during Week 13 in place of an injured Brooks Reed. In that game against the Tennessee Titans, he sacked their quarterback Jake Locker twice. However, there is one quarterback that Mercilus has a special reverence for.

"Peyton Manning. That was a shocker. My coach told me before even playing a game 'don't get starstruck' before playing. I kind of did with Manning, but I got back into the game," said Mercilus. "I wanted to sack him, because I wanted to touch him."

Even though Mercilus has moved on to playing against professional quarterbacks in front of a national audience, he says he stills texts guys on the Illini team, and is extremely proud of the Illini players, such as Terry Hawthorne, Akeem Spence, Hugh Thornton, and Michael Buchanan, that were just drafted in April. Mercilus has high draft hopes for a specific player that is returning to Memorial Stadium this season.

"Jonathan Brown. I'm very confident he is going to have a spectacular season next year coming off of the injury,"Mercilus said. "He is a player with a lot of talent."

With his rookie year over with, Whitney Mercilus is excited to start a second season with the Texans and participate in organized team activities that begin at the end of May.

"Never know what the future holds for us, but we picked up some great guys in the offseason and in free agency," he said. "For me, I'm hoping for a good season, and I'm just working towards that. We want to go all the way."

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