After what Nader Abdallah has been through, the draft process is a breeze.
From losing a couple of brothers to watching helplessly from Columbus, Ohio, as Hurricane Katrina devastated the family store in New Orleans, the Ohio State defensive tackle has been through more than the typical 23-year-old. So, not being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine despite being a big, strong, vital cog in Ohio State's powerful defense certainly was no reason to sulk.
The Combine snub "is hard to understand," Abdallah told Packer Report last week. "But, you know, what are you going to do? Are you going to cry about it and just complain, or are you going to work hard and do the best you can to show that you were supposed to be there? I think I did a good job of doing that."
At 6-foot-4 and 292 pounds, Abdallah has a body perfectly suited to play defensive end in the Packers' new 3-4 defense. He is an under-the-radar prospect who figures to be available in the middle rounds of the draft because he was late building his resume.
After redshirting in 2004, Abdallah played sparingly in 2005 and 2006. He started eight games as a junior, but he really opened eyes during the final half of his senior season. After posting eight tackles, 11 assists, three tackles for loss and one sack as a junior, Abdallah had just two tackles, six assists and one tackle for loss during the first six games of his senior season.
Then, as if a switch had been flipped, Abdallah became an unstoppable force. In his final seven games, he had 10 solo tackles, 15 assists, one sack and a whopping five tackles for loss to finish with 12 solos, 21 assists, six tackles for loss and a sack. He was in on at least one tackle for loss in six of his final seven games.
"He was all over the place, and seeing him in the opponents' backfield became pretty typical," said Scout.com's Ohio State insider, Marcus Hartman. "The change in production was so significant I think it caught everybody on the beat by surprise."
Asked about Abdallah's rise from just a big body in the middle of the defense to a difference-making presence, Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock pointed to Abdallah's brother. After Ohio State's loss to Florida in the national championship game following the 2006 season, Mazen Abdallah came to Columbus. He had Nader working out early in the morning and refocused him after a series of devastating family events. According to Nader, he dropped about 45 pounds, helping him become a leaner, meaner player.
"There was a lot of reasons, but it was incredible," Heacock told Packer Report on Tuesday. "I don't know that I've ever seen it in my coaching career, having a guy turn it around like he did on an off the field. It's just a great story."
It is indeed a great story of overcoming adversity. When Abdallah was young, the family's oldest child, Husam, was accidentally shot and killed. In spring 2005, another brother, Shadi, died while behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer.
"That was really a hard time in my life," Abdallah said, "and a couple months after that, that's when Katrina hit."
Katrina flooded the family home and store, Hulio's, which was a landmark in the New Orleans projects. Abdallah started working there when he was 6, doing everything from stocking shelves to being a butcher.
Because Younes and Izzieh Abdallah, who had emigrated to the United States from their native Palestine about 25 years earlier, did not have insurance, they were unable to put their lives back together. His parents moved in with Nader in Columbus for six months before moving back to Palestine. A couple of siblings have started over in Houston.
"Oh, yeah," Abdallah said when asked if all of that made him grow up in a hurry. "My family did a good job of letting me know that they were there for me. They knew that nothing's guaranteed. My whole family is rooting for me right now, and hopefully I'll be able to put my family back in a comfortable situation. I'm hoping for the best right now."
His parents have come back to Columbus a few times to watch him play and attend his graduation. Because the store and academics were what mattered to his parents, Abdallah didn't begin playing football until his junior year of high school, and that was only because of Mazen's prodding to their father.
"Now, he's like the biggest football fan in the world. He's really supportive of me," Abdallah said. "I owe it all to my brother for opening up his eyes and letting me play. So many great things have happened since I've been playing football. It's been the best part of my life."
That "best part" of his life figures to get even better in less than a month. Because of his late-season play and his dominating performance at the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game, Abdallah has seen his draft stock soar from possible undrafted free agent to mid-round prospect.
"Nader is one of the most polished pre-draft clients I've ever come across," said his agent, Mike Abadir. "In addition to being hard working and focused, he has mental toughness to overcome challenges he encounters. I think much of this has to do with the personal situations he's faced such as the hurricane tragedy as well as the patience he had to exhibit playing at Ohio State, where they were very deep at his position. He always finds a way to reach deep within and take advantage of opportunities. That's how he's achieved success, and that's what's most impressive to me."
He further enhanced his draft stock at Ohio State's pro day a couple of weeks ago. Because he wasn't invited to the Combine, this was his chance to impress, and he did so by putting up 24 reps on the 225-pound bench press, running his 40-yard dash in under 5.10 seconds and posting a 32-inch vertical leap. Those results would have put him among the defensive line leaders at the Combine. According to Abadir, "nearly every team" has been "raving" about his client.
"My confidence level has grown so high since after the sixth game of the season," Abdallah said. "It was all a frame of mine. I'm like, ‘You know what? I'm not going to let no one block me. I'm going to do whatever I have to do. I'm going to be a lot more emotional on the field.' I don't know what got over me, but it just hit me and I started playing better. I took that into the all-star game. I did what I had to do over there and showed it's not just a fluke. It's something I've done for the last six, seven games. I showed that I can do this in front of the best guys in the country. I can be that player and my best days are definitely ahead of me."
Along with a run-stopping presence as a 3-4 end, Abdallah has the potential to develop into a good pass rusher, Heacock said. Beyond that, whoever lands Abdallah will be getting a motivated and mature leader.
"He's a really great story, just from where he came from and the type of player he was when he first came here and the type of student and the whole thing," Heacock said. "To see how he's come along and progressed, he ended up being the leader of the defense and the leader of the team. He was a very positive force out there."
The Packers are among the teams that have expressed interest.
"Hopefully, they'll give me that chance," he said, "because I'd love to play for them."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport