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Marla Ridenour on Sports

The curious case of Vernon Gholston

By Marla Published: March 3, 2011

On Wednesday, the New York Jets released linebacker Vernon Gholston, completing one of the most puzzling sagas in recent NFL drafts.

Then-Jets coach Eric Mangini selected Ohio State defensive end Gholston with the sixth pick in the 2008 draft. Mangini wasn't the only one who was smitten with Gholston, whose 22 1/2 sacks in his sophomore and junior seasons were the most in the country in that span. He set the OSU single-game record with four sacks against Wisconsin in 2007 and his 14 sacks that year broke Mike Vrabel's single-season record of 13.

 ''There's four logical picks for No. 1 and he's one of them,'' NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said of Gholston before the 2008 draft. ''I think he'll end up at Oakland.'' Oakland held the fourth selection.

Gholston had a sculpted body when football coach Thomas Wilcher of Cass Tech High School in Detroit first saw him as a freshman. Even then, some wondered if he liked weightlifting more than football.

While his former high school defensive coordinator and long-time mentor Charleston Fobbs called him a ''Lawrence Taylor type'' before the '08 draft, Gholston started only five of 45 games he played with the Jets and totalled no sacks. In 2010, he played little, making only 12 tackles and was inactive for the playoffs.

Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock described Gholston as ''a very quiet, internal guy'' before he was drafted. "I don't think you'll ever see Vernon show his emotions,'' Heacock said.

Some wondered about his inconsistency, but attributed that to the fact he'd played defense for only four seasons and football for six by the time he got to the NFL. But even as a freshman in high school, Gholston loved the training part of football but hated the violence.

Gholston is a religious man -- Ohio State coach Jim Tressel told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he could hold an audience spellbound with Bible school stories -- which may have been why he never took a quarterback's head off. Even during his junior season at OSU in a three-sack performance against Michigan and its All-American left tackle Jake Long, the possible No. 1 pick, Gholston once dropped Chad Henne with a chest bump.

It will be interesting to see if another NFL team gives Gholston a chance. I expect someone will, although at a bargain-basement price. But there's also the possibility that Gholston has realized that football and his beliefs can't co-exist and he'll walk away a  millionaire with no regrets.



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