Long journey just beginning for Ilaoa
By Andy Jasner
Special to The Advertiser
By Andy Jasner
PHILADELPHIA — Nate Ilaoa admits he is as elated as he is exhausted. But when you're a seventh-round draft choice, there's no time to be tired.
"I probably had the longest trip to Philadelphia as anyone," Ilaoa said yesterday during a break in the Philadelphia Eagles' four-day mini-camp at the NovaCare Complex. "I think it was like 6,000 miles or so. I left Thursday night and had a three-hour layover in Los Angeles. It was pretty long. I have to suit up and go. No one is going to feel sorry for me because I had a longer trip to get here.
"I would have gone anywhere for this. This is my dream to play in the NFL."
Ilaoa, a 5-foot-9, 245-pound running back from the University of Hawai'i, was selected by the Eagles with the 236th overall pick in the NFL Draft. While the Eagles thought enough of Ilaoa to take him in the seventh round, there are no guarantees he will earn a roster spot.
He's not worrying about that right now.
"I figure if I go out and do the things I'm capable of doing, everything will work out the way it's supposed to," Ilaoa said. "I'm excited to be here but I'm not in awe or anything like that. I want to show them I belong here.
"I've seen a number of Eagles games and I see how they use their backs like Brian Westbrook. He catches a lot of balls out of the backfield.
"I did a lot of that at Hawai'i. They threw to me a lot and I had to catch and hold on to the ball across the middle with not a lot of room. I think the fact that I caught so many passes was attractive to the Eagles. I feel I'm versatile and I can contribute so many things."
Ilaoa, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility in 2006, finished his college career with a record 151 receptions for 1,694 yards, breaking the previous mark of 73 catches for 895 yards set by Gary Allen from 1978-81.
Ilaoa's 20 touchdown runs ties him with Glenn Freitas (1993-96) for fifth on the all-time list.
Under coach Andy Reid's West Coast Offense, Ilaoa can expect to catch a lot of passes out of the backfield.
"I first met with the Eagles at the combine and we talked about the similar offenses," Ilaoa said. "Not a lot of teams ran the complex offense like we did at Hawai'i. The Eagles do similar things because they pass so much to the backs. I felt good about coming to the Eagles because the offense is something I'm really familiar with. It's exciting to me because I like to be part of the action.
"I have a lot of things to learn. I'm ready to go. I want to soak as much information up as possible."
Some of the veteran players have already been helpful to Ilaoa. A player's first mini-camp can be a daunting experience without some assistance.
"I remember my first and I was like, 'Whew, this is more work than college,' " said Eagles wide receiver Reggie Brown. "I told Nate that you can't do everything in one day. Do your work, study your playbook and be prepared. Preparation at this level is very important. He has a lot talent because the Eagles drafted him. Now it's up to him to do the work. I'll help him and the younger players out in any way."
A couple of players were already asking Ilaoa how he got the nickname "Nasti Nate." The veterans were joking about how a rookie could already have a nickname.
"It was a nickname I got from my one of my brothers while we were growing up," Ilaoa said. "It's from the movie called 'Half Baked,' and there's a character called "Nasti Nate" on it, and they used to make fun of me about it just because the character was real goofy in the movie. For whatever reason, it stuck and that's how I'm known."
In Philadelphia, Ilaoa wants to be known as a hard-working player. He understands how much passion the fans here have for the Eagles.
"They like guys to give everything they have and they should," Ilaoa said. "That's how I am. When I hit the football field, I'm all business. There's no fooling around there. It's time to work. I think the fans will see a player willing to do anything."