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CEDAR FALLS — As college football players across the country make their decisions on their professional futures, one player threw his hat into the ring from an unexpected place.
Northern Iowa linebacker Brett McMakin, who was named a second-team STATS FCS All-American in his junior season, will leave UNI early and has declared for the NFL Draft.
Both McMakin and UNI head coach Mark Farley confirmed his decision to The Gazette on Thursday night. In a message to The Gazette, McMakin declined further comment, choosing to focus on his training for now. He becomes the first UNI player in school history to declare for the draft with eligibility remaining.
'He just feels this is the right time for him to make the move and we're supporting him 100 percent,' Farley said. 'No, not really, he hadn't talked about it. This kind of came up late here. But again, it's his choice on what he needs to do and we support him 100 percent. He's done a great job for us.'
A variety of NFL Draft-devoted websites have McMakin ranked as the No. 57 outside linebacker for the 2017 draft, which he would have been eligible for after his senior season. Instead, McMakin heads into the process early, joining senior teammates Deiondre Hall — who has been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine — Tim Kilfoy, Makinton Dorleant and Isaac Ales as professional hopefuls.
Where and how McMakin might fit in the NFL is a long way from being certain, but his training is already ongoing.
His coach was as surprised as anyone at the Overland Park, Kan., native's choice — especially given it hasn't happened before — and hadn't had a chance to fully analyze McMakin's chances in the draft or at the next level. He did say at Media Day before the 2015 season that '(Brett has) got everything you need — he's got the height, he's got the speed; he's got the toughness you need at linebacker.'
What Farley does know without a doubt is it takes the right combination of opportunity and timing to make a professional career work.
'I haven't dug that deep into it. It takes a pretty special athlete to make it. The timing of it has a lot to do with it as well, but it takes a heck of a player to get the opportunity, and an even better player to make it,' Farley said. 'It's a long shot, but it's an opportunity that everybody dreams of getting an opportunity to play in this league.
'I don't know if anybody's ever ready (for the NFL). When the opportunity presents itself, you've just got to make sure you give it your best shot.'
The decision leaves a significant hole in the UNI defense, which finished the 2015 season ranked 26th in the nation. The Panthers, which lost in the FCS quarterfinals to eventual champion North Dakota State, were ranked No. 6 in the final FCS poll as well.
McMakin led UNI with 123 tackles this season, and finishes his career with 255 total tackles, 30 for loss, 15.5 sacks, three interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. Filling that role will be difficult, but if there's a positive the Panthers can take from this decision headed into the 2016 season, it's that the UNI coaching staff can figure it into recruiting.
UNI announced its 2016 schedule Thursday morning, and Farley and his staff have just less than nine months to figure out who will line up at the OLB positions for the Sept. 3 opener at Iowa State.
'I feel like I've got a plan. The fortunate thing is we know about this before recruiting and we can definitely find the people to move forward with,' Farley said. 'That's part of college football. We replaced David Johnson, so I'll think we'll be able to replace Brett. He sees an opportunity and we're going to support him 100 percent.'
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