first_imgINDIANAPOLIS – Patrick Willis and Paul Posluszny grew up in different worlds. One considered attending the Naval Academy and representing his country on the battlefield if he couldn’t become the next Western Pennsylvania kid to star at Penn State. The other dreamed of creating a better life for his siblings in the South. Willis endured the kind of childhood experiences no youngster should. The real-life nightmare began when his mother left home, abandoned her four children and forced them to fend for themselves with an uninterested father. Willis was 4 years old. Two years later, Willis was cooking meals for his siblings and, by age 10, was working in Tennessee’s cotton fields with his grandmother for $110 per week. The money went to his dad so he could pay the family’s bills. As a teenager, the situation worsened. When Willis learned his father was abusing his sister, Ernicka, he turned him in to child services and Willis and his siblings suddenly needed to find a new family. When Chris and Julie Finley took in Willis and became his legal guardians, things changed. Willis eventually earned a scholarship to Mississippi and began emerging as one of the Rebels top players. Their divergent paths have crossed here, at the NFL’s annual scouting combine, where the award-winning linebackers are vying to become first-round picks in April’s NFL draft. “It would be a blessing, especially the way I grew up,” Willis said, when asked what he would do with his riches. “It would help me take care of those who helped me along the way and make sure that if I have children they won’t have to go through what I went through.” center_img But just when it seemed everything finally was going right, Willis’ 17-year-old brother, Detris, a two-way starter on his high school football team in Bruceton, Tenn., drowned while swimming. Willis delivered the eulogy. He played his senior season like he a man on a mission. Willis finished with 137 tackles, 111/2 for losses and three sacks. He was an All-American, the SEC’s defensive player of the year and the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker. He also earned the coveted Chucky Mullins Courage Award. Last month, he added the Senior Bowl’s defensive MVP award to his list of honors. “My real-life experience taught me how to compete through adversity,” he said. “No matter what happens, if someone knocks you down, you have to find a way to get up and get the job done. That’s what you have to do.” Posluszny’s road to the combine took a more conventional route. After sweeping the 2005 Butkus and Bednarik awards, most figured he was off to the NFL. Yes, Posluszny admitted he contemplated leaving school early – until one play late in last year’s Orange Bowl took away that option. When Posluszny tried to leap over a block by Lorenzo Booker, the Florida State running back hit Posluszny in the knee with his helmet. The toughest Nittany Lion on the roster couldn’t just shake off this one; two ligaments were partially torn. Posluszny feared he might need surgery, but doctors said he simply needed rest. To Posluszny, it was an agonizing two months. “It was long, long and boring,” he said. “The injury wasn’t very significant, but it was a long rehab process.” The other part was Posluszny had to start all over and prove to scouts he could make it all the way back to his old form. The way teams look at it, they can’t go wrong. Both are talented, tested and terrific on the field. And in a world where team officials often talk about needing “character guys,” they will be hard-pressed to find two more compelling cases than those offered by Posluszny’s comeback and Willis’ fight for survival. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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