Tahir Whitehead and Evan Rodriguez have lined up against each other countless times on the practice field at Temple University the last four seasons.
Now, they’ll experience facing off against each other twice a year as Whitehead and Rodriguez were drafted by NFC North rivals Detroit and Chicago on the third day of the NFL draft Saturday.
“It’ll be nothing new,” said Rodriguez with a laugh. “We’ve done it in practice every day the last few years. The more Temple Owls on the board the better. He’s another Jersey boy too. He grew up down the road from me, so the fact that we both made it is a good feeling.”
Rodriguez, a tight end, went to the Bears in the fourth round, while Whitehead, a linebacker, was taken by the Lions a round later.
“I’m excited about it, we’ve been facing each other for three or four years, and it’s helped me going against such a great athlete,” said Whitehead.
The seniors joined junior running back Bernard Pierce, who was picked in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens Friday night, as Owls selected in this year’s draft. The three draft picks ties a school record, as Temple also had three players drafted in 1946, 1975, 1980 and 1987.
Rodriguez, who made 35 receptions for 479 yards and two touchdowns this year, was a two-time All-Mid-American Conference selection.
“I heard I was getting drafted in rounds three through five,” said Rodriguez. “Did I think it would be the Bears? No. I heard from a lot of teams, was getting texts telling me to hold tight and didn’t really hear from the Bears, but actions speak louder than words.
“But I’m glad I got picked by the Bears. It’s an organization with a lot of history, a great coach in Lovie Smith and a lot of veteran Pro Bowl players. I’m just going to do my part to help us win the Super Bowl.”
Rodriguez could play a number of roles, based on his conversation with the Bears coaches.
“They told me they’re going to put me everywhere, which is nothing new for me,” said Rodriguez. “I can catch the ball, I can run the ball, I can be a slot receiver, a fullback. I’m a natural-born athlete. Whatever they want me to do, I’m all in.”
Whitehead, a second-team all-conference player and the Defensive MVP in the Owl’s New Mexico Bowl win, finished the 2011 season with 70 tackles, including a team-best 13 1/2 for loss, five sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Like Rodriguez, he was surprised by the team that drafted him.
“I was hearing talks I could go anywhere from fourth round to free agent, so I was sitting on the edge of my seat, anxious, not knowing,” said Whitehead. “It was a big surprise when the Lions called. Basically, I had no contact with them. I talked to them twice, and I talked to other teams a lot more.
“But I’m excited. I can’t wait to get there. It’s a hard-working city, an up-and-coming team with some great defensive players like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh. I’m going to earn everything I’m going to get through hard work and dedication.”
Both players helped themselves during fine 2011 seasons — as did Pierce, who put aside his durability issues while re-writing the Temple record books — and saw their hopes realized this weekend.
“It’s been my dream my whole life,” said Rodriguez. “There’s been bumps in the road, I had to wait my turn, but when the opportunity came I took advantage of it.”