Without question, Rick Stockstill said Rod Issac can play.
But when discussing Issac – the Jacksonville Jaguars' fifth-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft – Stockstill's focus is more than football.
Stockstill, entering his sixth season as the football coach at Middle Tennessee State University, said during Issac's time there the truth is he was about far more than football, and the cornerback impressed the coaches as much off the field as on.
He was a smart student. And a smart football player.
Stockstill said this much is true, too:
That isn't likely to change.
"Rod conducts his life in a very professional manner," Stockstill said of Issac, a cornerback who the Jaguars selected this past Saturday in the fifth round, making him the 147thplayer selected overall.
"He's very goal-oriented and he's not going to embarrass the organization. To me, he knows how to act and be a professional right now. To me, there's no doubt he'll be able to contribute to Jacksonville and that organization and the city."
Stockstill said he has spoken with Issac since the draft.
"I know he's eager and anxious to get there," Stockstill said of Issac who – like all rookies and veterans – may not be at the facility because of the ongoing labor dispute.
"He's excited about the opportunity. He's very focused and very competitive and to me, in the NFL, that's one of the traits you have to have – the competitive instincts and attitudes."
Issac (5-feet-11, 196 pounds), who attended Miami (Fla.) Dade Central High School, started 37 of 46 games at left cornerback for the Blue Raiders, and recorded 189 tackles with 12 tackles for losses. He also was a consensus All-Sun Belt Conference selection as a senior.
Stockstill said as important to Issac as football – and as much of an example of his goal-oriented approach – was academics. He graduated in three-and-a-half years with a major in organizational communication.
"That's hard to do if you're not focused on your schoolwork and don't have goals and don't have a plan," Stockstill said. "Football-wise, obviously being drafted in the NFL is a dream and a goal of a lot of people."
Stockstill said Issac approached it as more than a dream.
"He would stay out after practice and would work on something," Stockstill said. "He might work on bump-and-run technique this time, or he might work on covering the deep ball or his backpedal or his transition in and out of breaks. He constantly worked to improve himself individually.
"It goes back to reaching the goals he set for himself and obviously, one of them was the NFL. You can find it at every level. There are a lot of talented high school players, college players NFL players who never reach their full potential because they didn't have the work ethic it takes to be successful and that it takes to be great.
"Rod's got it. He has a great work ethic. He'll do whatever task is at hand."
Stockstill said while the lockout means Issac can't be with the Jaguars, "I promise you Rod's working out two or three times a day right now."
Issac, who started at least five games in every collegiate season, finished his career with five interceptions and 18 pass breakups, but it was his tackling ability that drew the eyes of NFL personnel people. Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith and Director Player Personnel Terry McDonough each discussed his physical style shortly after the draft, with McDonough calling Issac "one of the most physical corners in the draft."
"I don't know what they're saying there, but Rod is a tough player," Stockstill said. "He's tough physically and he's tough mentally. He's a mentally tough player and a physically tough player. He's a good tackler. He's not going to tackle you around your ankles.
"He's not going to shy away from contact. He's going to get you on the ground and he's going to compete in a very physical manner, whether it's tackling or press coverage. He's going to compete. He's very tough-minded and aggressive in everything he does."
Stockstill said while Issac had natural ability, he has improved the last two years.
Maturity, Stockstill said, was a big reason.
"His body is really starting to change," he said. "He's put on a little more weight and he's physically stronger. He's a very competitive young man.
"He's physical both in the passing game and in the running game."
Stockstill said Issac's body truly started to grow into that of an NFL-level player the last two seasons.
"When we recruited him, we thought he was a really good player," Stockstill said. "He got stronger and a little bit bigger from a weight standpoint. That's when he became a much more physical player. He became a lot more confident the last couple of years.
"I think it's just been a gradual, typical transition that all kids go through. They go from a freshman – a scrawny little kid – to where as a freshman they've grown into a man. His body has gotten stronger these last couple of years and he's really made a jump into a legitimate player."