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HomeSportsUT
Published: Tuesday, 4/24/2001

3 Rockets and 2 Falcons sign NFL contracts

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Mel Long Jr. hopes to play in a regular-season NFL game some day, just like his famous father.

The younger Long was one of three University of Toledo football players who signed free-agent contracts with NFL teams yesterday, agreeing to a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Offensive tackle Jim Harding, from Maumee High School, signed with the Miami Dolphins, and linebacker Kevin Rollins agreed to a deal with the Super Bowl runner-up New York Giants.

Two players from Bowling Green State University also signed as free agents - offensive tackle Rob Fehrman with the Pittsburgh Steelers and long snapper Ryan Diepenbrock with the Buffalo Bills.

All five players will report to their teams' mini-camps this weekend.

Long, 6-1 and 197 pounds, was one of 16 free agents signed by the Eagles. A four-year starter, he is UT's all-time leader in receptions (75), touchdown catches (21) and yardage (2,188).

As a senior at Scott High School, Long received all-state honors and was the team's MVP.

Long's father, Mel Sr., is one of the most decorated football players in UT football history, and one of only four players whose jersey has been retired. He was an 11th-round draft pick of the Browns in 1972, and played three seasons in the NFL for Cleveland.

“Playing in the NFL has been a goal of mine for a long time, but it's not because of my dad,” Long Jr. said yesterday. “The Eagles wanted me, so I am going there. I've been told I will get a chance to play in the preseason.

“When I go there I will be on equal footing with the other new players. Of course, on that level, there's always some sort of politics involved. I am going to have to go there and fight for my spot, and hopefully I will make the roster.”

The elder Long, a graduate of the former Macomber High School, was the first consensus All-American in the history of the Mid-American Conference. He was named MAC defensive player of the year, and was voted most valuable lineman in the 1971 Tangerine Bowl.

Long Sr. was a key member of the 35-0 Rocket teams from 1969-71, and is a member of the UT, MAC and College Football halls of fame. He helped the Rockets finish No. 12 in the final Associated Press poll in 1970, and No. 14 in 1971.

Rollins (6-1, 235) was a four-year starter who finished his UT career with 300 tackles, 41 tackles for losses, 25 sacks and four interceptions.

As a senior Rollins had 95 tackles and 10 sacks, both team highs. He was a two-time All-MAC second-team pick.

“I wasn't disappointed I didn't get drafted once the draft got into the sixth and seventh rounds Sunday,” said Rollins, who was projected as the 33rd best outside linebacker by ESPN commentator and NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

“I think signing as a free agent with the Giants will give me a better opportunity. I'm with a team that wants me, and I'm happy about that. Now I just want to go there and impress them some more.”

Harding (6-6, 305) was a first-team All-MAC player last season. He also was a four-year regular who started all 46 games at right tackle in his UT career.

Harding, who worked out for the Dolphins at the Glass Bowl last month, will be moved from tackle to guard.

“I'm excited,” Harding said. “All I wanted was an opportunity to play in the NFL. Going to the Dolphins is a great feeling.”

Fehrman (6-7, 300) was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Falcons after redshirting as a freshman in 1996. He started 44 games and was a second-team All-MAC selection as a junior.

Fehrman, one of 18 free agents signed by the Steelers, also is an outstanding student. He was a member of the MAC honor roll the past two years.

“Right now this is all pretty new to me,” Fehrman said yesterday. “I'm happy for the opportunity, but I'm not sure exactly what to expect. I should have a better idea of where I stand after mini-camp this weekend.”

Diepenbrock (6-2, 225) is considered one of the top long snappers in the country.



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