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Driven for success


Andy Coen knew immediately.

Not that Will Rackley would make the NFL, necessarily. Although that was the kid's stated goal from the start, Coen – the football coach at Lehigh University – knew that was a long shot whatever the kid's work ethic.

But special? Different?

Yes, Coen said, that much was clear. Immediately.

"He just has great character, and a good sense of morals," Coen said of Rackley, an offensive guard/tackle who the Jaguars this past weekend made a third-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, the 76thplayer selected overall.

"He was raised very well. He understands hard work, and he knows what it's like to earn something. He doesn't take that for granted."

Rackley, who attended Riverdale (Ga.) High School, not only started four seasons -- 45 of 46 games – at Lehigh, but became the first player in 16 seasons from Lehigh drafted into the NFL.

Coen said the goal was stated from the start.

"He told (offensive line coach) Brett Sawyer during our first evaluation with him that he wanted to play in the NFL," Coen said.

It's one thing to say that. Coen said what made Rackley different was what he did to achieve it.

Rackley arrived at Lehigh around 260 pounds, having played offensive tackle in high school. He had played in a four-point stance in a veer offense.

"He's going to do whatever is asked of him and do it with a smile on his face," Coen said. "He went after it."

Coen said it was evident immediately upon Rackley's arrival he was different. He ran well and did things athletically above the norm.

"We thought he was going to be a special player at our level of football," he said.

Rackley started as a freshman, the first time in Coen's 20 seasons as a line coach/head coach he had started a freshman offensive lineman.

"He took some lumps, but that was incredibly impressive," Coen said.

Late during that season, an event occurred that Coen said defined Rackley – not only his importance to the Lehigh program, but his approach as a player.

The Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry is a critical one to the Lehigh program, known as the Rivalry and the most-played rivalry in college football. Late during Rackley's freshman season, Lehigh lost to Lafayette, 21-17. Members of the Lehigh program were driving to the football facility the following day.

"Our campus is built on a mountain," Coen said. "It's probably a three-mile run over the mountain. These kids are driving to the workout facility and Will's running the hill. They said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'I'm making sure I never lose to those guys again."

They didn't.

"He's just always had that mindset," Coen said. "You had to pull him off the field. He's hitting the sled after a two-and-a-half hour practice. He was driven to do it. When you see stuff like that, you're just so proud of the kid for being able to meet his goals."

Rackley started as an engineering major, and is now scheduled to graduate in four years from the college of arts and science with a products design major. And while many college players withdraw from classes while preparing for the NFL Draft, Rackley did not, though he did spend time training in Florida.

"He had a class here where he had to build projects," Coen said. "They built him a woodshop, so while he was down there training he built the projects. He just had a great sense of balance and what he had to get done."

Still, Coen said Rackley's road to the NFL was a process. He made big strides while playing guard as a freshman, then he moved as a sophomore to tackle, where he started the final three seasons. He was a three-time first-team All-Patriot League selection, and this past season became the first Lehigh player since 2004 to be named first-team Associated Press All-America.

"By his junior year, it was apparent he would get some opportunities," Coen said.

What Coen said scouts noticed about Rackley as a senior was while competing against out-manned opponents in practice, Rackley continued to play hard.

"I felt sorry for some of the guys he was going against, but he didn't," Coen said. "That's the drive. The scouts were impressed by how hard he worked and how he practiced to get better. He smelled it, especially this season."

Rackley, who is expected to play interior line for the Jaguars, was essentially scouted by every team in the NFL during his junior/senior off-season and senior season. Sawyer and Jaguars offensive line coach Andy Heck were graduate assistants together at Virginia, a relationship that made the Jaguars stand out in the process, Coen said.

But Coen said the reality was the Jaguars were far from the only team coveting Rackley. Eight or nine offensive line coaches attended Rackley's pre-draft Pro Day, "and easily that number came in and worked him out individually," Coen said.

"The feedback was all really positive," Coen said. "I was so impressed with how level-headed he stayed and how grounded he was. There would be days where you would have Eagles, Giants, Jets – whoever. They were here watching practice and everybody knows they're here, but he's worried about beating Colgate.

"He didn't change his demeanor or his approach at all. I guess that's not the way it always, but this kid is a great character kid and a hard worker. He's going to be aiming to please." 

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