Humpal Headed to Steel City

It wasn't that long ago that Mike Humpal was wondering if he'd ever walk again. On Sunday, he took another step into realizing a childhood dream of playing in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers chose the Iowa linebacker in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Senior Writer Rob Howe caught up with the New Hampton, Iowa native after his selection and filed this feature.

Some players get frustrated when they're selected late in the NFL Draft. They think they're better than guys chosen ahead of them. It's an ego blow.

Not Mike Humpal.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers picked the former Iowa linebacker in the sixth round (188 overall) on Sunday, he felt honored and appreciative. The New Hampton, Iowa native battled injuries early in his career, including a severe one to his leg.

As he was sitting in his parents' house after being drafted, a friend of the Humpal family turned to him and said: "It was three and a half years ago that we just wanted you to walk again let alone run."

"It's just one of those deals," the humble Humpal said. "I've come a long way, but it's only the beginning of the road."

That process begins on Friday, when the Steelers hold orientation for the rookies.

"I don't exactly know what time or if I'll have to drive out there or fly or what," Humpal said.

You've got to love the regular-guy approach of Humpal. Chances are good that he won't be driving halfway across the country for training camp, but that's what he's willing to do for his chance.

The second-team all-Big Ten honoree led the league in tackles per game (11.8) during conference action of 2007. He finished with 124 stops (5.5 for loss) on the season to go with three interceptions. He picked off six passes in his career.

Humpal tested well at the scouting combine and again at Iowa's pro day. He was told he would have a good chance of being drafted, but he decided to play golf on Saturday and he was playing cards at home when he was picked.

"(The draft) was on (the TV)," Humpal said. "I was trying not to watch it. You can't really help but watch it."

With the Steelers' sixth-round pick approaching, Humpal's phone rang.

"It seemed like I talked to about 10 different people (from Pittsburgh) in about two minutes," Humpal remembered. "They said, "We're on the clock. What do you think about being a Steeler?" I said it'd be great. I'd love the opportunity. I talked to a couple of other people and then hung up, walked into the living room and two seconds later it came across the screen."

The 6-3, 244-pound Humpal recorded 18 tackles in a game twice at Iowa, the last one coming in a win over BCS Bowl-bound Illinois last fall. He earned national defensive player of the week honors. felt like Pittsburgh did well in nabbing Humpal in the sixth round, saying:

"Humpal battled injuries early in his career to become a productive linebacker at Iowa. He has good size and will have a chance to stick around as a special teams contributor and reserve linebacker."

Humpal admitted to not knowing a lot about the Steelers.

"I just know that they're a successful football team," he said "They're pretty solid on defense, obviously. They're solid on offense as well. I'm just excited to get out there, learn the system and get going.

"Other than that, I talked to the linebackers coach. He said I'd be playing a little different position. They're going to teach me a lot of different schemes and stuff. I'll get started on that and be ready to roll."

Pittsburgh plays a 3-4 defense. Humpal is used to a 4-3 from Iowa, but the Hawkeyes and defensive coordinator Norm Parker did run some 3-4 the last few years.

"It's still football, I guess," Humpal said. "Like Coach Parker said, there are only so many things that you can do. There are only 11 guys on the field. I'll just learn the scheme and go from there."

There is a belief in some NFL Draft circles that it is better to be an un-drafted free agent than get selected in the late rounds. That way you can pick your spot rather than going to a team that waited until the end to choose you.

"It's weird because growing up as a kid you always dream of being drafted. One day you want to be drafted into the NFL," Humpal said. "As you get older and learn more about it, people tell you you'd rather be a free agent than drafted late.

"Either way it's an opportunity and a chance. So, I'm going to take advantage of it. I'm excited to get drafted. We'll find out it's a good situation. I have a good feeling about it. I'm just anxious to get going."

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