Snapshot: Derrick Jones and Eric Fowler

They know the history. They know this isn't just any opportunity with just any NFL team. And undrafted free agents Derrick Jones and Eric Fowler - teammates at Division II champion Grand Valley State - are determined to add their names to a list that reads Kreider, Parker, Washington ...

PITTSBURGH – They didn't exactly take a well-worn path to the NFL, but Derrick Jones and Eric Fowler are determined to stay now that they are here.

And considering what they were able to accomplish in college, it may not be a good idea to bet against them.

Jones and Fowler were both standouts for a national championship team, albeit at the NCAA Division II level. And not just once, mind you. Jones and Fowler were key components of a Grand Valley State football program that has won four of the past five championships at that level, with Jones and Fowler playing key roles in the past two titles.

But while both men are proud of their past accomplishments, it's what now faces them as undrafted rookie free agents with the Pittsburgh Steelers that is firmly on their minds now.

"My head is swimming with the playbook," said Fowler, who had 1,598 yards receiving in 2006. "But it helps to have Derrick here with me. It's good to look around when everything is happening and see a familiar face. We're both going through the same things, so it really helps."

Fowler, in particular, is in a unique position – at least in the locker room.

The rookie's locker is situated in the first corner of the room, tucked right between Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward and veteran cornerback Deshea Townsend.

"It's a great place for a rookie to be," said the 6-3, 198-pound Fowler. "I'm just trying to soak up as much information as I can from them."

Fowler and Jones took distinctly different paths to Grand Valley State, which is located in the town of Allendale, Mich., near Grand Rapids.

Jones, a Barstow, Calif., native, originally signed with San Jose State. But the playing time wasn't coming quickly enough for the 6-4, 282-pound defensive lineman and he began looking for a new situation.

Hence, he left sunny California for Michigan.

"I wanted to win a national championship," said Jones. "I didn't care what level. I ended up winning two national championships, so things worked out."

And the speedy big man – he was clocked in the 4.7s in the 40 at his pro day – figured if he played well enough, he would be noticed regardless of his level of football.

"The only difference I noticed from Division I ball to Division II was the depth," said Jones, who led the team with 9.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season. "The starters were quality players, but not many teams had any kind of depth."

Fowler, meanwhile, turned down offers from larger schools because he also wanted to play basketball.

"Everybody figured I was just going to play basketball," said Fowler, a New Haven, Mich., native. "Grand Valley offered me the chance to do both. But it was tough. I did it for a couple of seasons and then I decided to just play football. It was just too much."

Both men looked at the Steelers as their best opportunity to make an NFL roster after going undrafted because of the team's current roster makeup.

"I look around this locker room and see a lot of guys on this team who made it here as undrafted guys," said Fowler. "There's Nate Washington, Willie Parker and some others. That told me that the Steelers were willing to give an undrafted guy a good look. Some teams don't do that. If you're an undrafted guy, you're just a body to them. But here, that's not the case."

Said Jones, "You just want the chance. I thought I had a chance to be drafted. A lot of teams had talked to me. And they were calling me on the second day of the draft. But this seemed like the best fit. We played a similar style of defense at Grand Valley and I think with my speed, I can open some eyes. Like I said, you just want the chance to show what you can do."

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

Photos of Derrick Jones and Eric Fowler courtesy of Doug Witte, Grand Valley State University.


Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\nPITTSBURGH – They didn't exactly take a well-worn path to the NFL,\r\nbut Derrick Jones \r\nand Eric Fowler are determined to stay now that they are here.\r\n\r\n

And considering what they were able to accomplish in college, it\r\nmay not be a good \r\nidea to bet against them.\r\n\r\n

Jones and Fowler were both standouts for a national championship\r\nteam, albeit at the \r\nNCAA Division II level. And not just once, mind you. Jones and Fowler\r\nwere key \r\ncomponents of a Grand Valley State football program that has won four\r\nof the past five \r\nchampionships at that level, with Jones and Fowler playing key roles\r\nin the past two titles.\r\n\r\n

But while both men are proud of their past accomplishments, it's\r\nwhat now faces \r\nthem as undrafted rookie free agents with the Pittsburgh Steelers\r\nthat is firmly on their \r\nminds now.\r\n\r\n

\"My head is swimming with the playbook,\" said Fowler, who had\r\n1,598 yards receiving \r\nin 2006. \"But it helps to have Derrick here with me. It's good to\r\nlook around when \r\neverything is happening and see a familiar face. We're both going\r\nthrough the same \r\nthings, so it really helps.\"\r\n\r\n

Fowler, in particular, is in a unique position – at least in the\r\nlocker room.\r\n\r\n

The rookie's locker is situated in the first corner of the room,\r\ntucked right between \r\nPro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward and veteran cornerback Deshea Townsend.\r\n\r\n

\"It's a great place for a rookie to be,\" said the 6-3, 198-pound\r\nFowler. \"I'm just trying \r\nto soak up as much information as I can from them.\"\r\n\r\n

Fowler and Jones took distinctly different paths to Grand Valley\r\nState, which is located \r\nin the town of Allendale, Mich., near Grand Rapids.\r\n\r\n

Jones, a Barstow, Calif., native, originally signed with San Jose State. But the playing \r\ntime wasn't coming quickly enough for the 6-4, 282-pound defensive\r\nlineman and he \r\nbegan looking for a new situation.\r\n\r\n

Hence, he left sunny California for Michigan.\r\n\r\n

\"I wanted to win a national championship,\" said Jones. \"I didn't\r\ncare what level. I \r\nended up winning two national championships, so things worked out.\"\r\n\r\n

And the speedy big man – he was clocked in the 4.7s in the 40 at\r\nhis pro day – figured \r\nif he played well enough, he would be noticed regardless of his level\r\nof football.\r\n\r\n

\"The only difference I noticed from Division I ball to Division II\r\nwas the depth,\" said \r\nJones, who led the team with 9.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last\r\nseason. \"The starters \r\nwere quality players, but not many teams had any kind of depth.\"\r\n\r\n

Fowler, meanwhile, turned down offers from larger schools because\r\nhe also wanted to \r\nplay basketball.\r\n\r\n

\"Everybody figured I was just going to play basketball,\" said\r\nFowler, a New Haven, \r\nMich., native. \"Grand Valley offered me the chance to do both. But it\r\nwas tough. I did it for \r\na couple of seasons and then I decided to just play football. It was\r\njust too much.\"\r\n\r\n

Both men looked at the Steelers as their best opportunity to make\r\nan NFL roster after \r\ngoing undrafted because of the team's current roster makeup.\r\n\r\n

\"I look around this locker room and see a lot of guys on this team\r\nwho made it here \r\nas undrafted guys,\" said Fowler. \"There's Nate Washington, Willie Parker and some others. \r\nThat told me that the Steelers were willing to give an undrafted guy\r\na good look. Some \r\nteams don't do that. If you're an undrafted guy, you're just a body\r\nto them. But here, \r\nthat's not the case.\"\r\n\r\n

Said Jones, \"You just want the chance. I thought I had a chance to\r\nbe drafted. A lot of \r\nteams had talked to me. And they were calling me on the second day of\r\nthe draft. But this \r\nseemed like the best fit. We played a similar style of defense at\r\nGrand Valley and I think \r\nwith my speed, I can open some eyes. Like I said, you just want the\r\nchance to show what \r\nyou can do.\"\r\n\r\n

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.\r\n\r\n

Photos of Derrick Jones and Eric Fowler courtesy of Doug Witte, Grand Valley State University.\r\n

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