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Ducasse prepares for NFL future while helping native Haiti

WEBFEATURE

Brad Giguere/Collegian

For Massachusetts offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, football and service go well together.

 Ducasse, who was born in Haiti, had to deal with the news that an earthquake struck his home country on Jan. 12 while he was preparing for the Under Armour Senior Bowl.

Ducasse was born in Port-au-Prince before moving to Connecticut at the age of 14, where he played football at Stamford High School. At some point, he said he hopes to visit Haiti once again when it’s safer, but for now, the closest tie he has to home is communicating with relatives. 

When the earthquake hit, he said he didn’t find out details about anyone in his home country until two days later. He learned that all of his family was safe and his home received no more than some minor damages. However, he was still concerned about his cousins and people who weren’t as fortunate as he was.

Although Haiti was still on his mind, Ducasse knew there was nothing else he could do besides play football, so he stuck with his plan of participating in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 in Mobile, Ala.

“What happened [in Haiti] is a terrible thing, but I have to move on now… and I just have to keep moving forward,” Ducasse said of his decision to stay in the Senior Bowl.

Despite being one of the few players from a Division I-AA school there, he said he felt comfortable playing with some of the top seniors in college football.

Ducasse will likely make the move from offensive tackle, which he played for as a member of the UMass football team, to offensive guard. In his senior year as a Minuteman, he made all-conference as the top offensive lineman in the Colonial Athletic Association and was also an All-American.

It will now be up to National Football League scouts and general managers to decide if he is good enough to make a roster.

So far, the answer is a yes.

The list of players who stepped foot in McGuirk Stadium and eventually stuck with an NFL team for a long period of time is small. There are three Minutemen currently in the NFL (Jeremy Cain, Matt Lawrence and James Ihedigbo), but none had the buzz around them that Ducasse has now.

The last UMass player drafted by an NFL team was Khari Samuel, who was taken in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears in 1999, and it’s been over 40 years since a Minuteman was a first round selection.

If Ducasse made the impression he was hoping to have, he could be the one to break that streak.

He received solid reviews from NFL scouts and is expected to go as high as the late first round or early second round of this year’s draft.

“When I was in the Senior Bowl, I felt good, I felt strong and I felt in shape,” Ducasse said. “I just did pretty much what I was supposed to do – go to practice, be physical and just doing what I had to do every game.”

In the past several weeks, he has been listening to some of the criticism he received during the Senior Bowl and working on those skills while preparing for the NFL Combine at the TEST Sports Club in New Jersey. The combine will begin tomorrow at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. and will go until March 2.

As much as Ducasse has done to impress scouts, he said he still faces doubts about how effective he can be in the NFL when he didn’t go to a Bowl Championship Series school. Another obstacle he faces is English not being his first language.

While he understands enough to be in the huddle without a translator, he still speaks with a heavy accent, which will be a challenge during the Combine interviews. 

Despite the scrutiny that comes with being a draft prospect, Ducasse feels that he will put many of the questions he faces to rest.

“I don’t think I’m at a disadvantage,” Ducasse said about being from a Division I-AA school. “It doesn’t matter if you’re from a small school or big school, you still have to earn your respect, because everyone’s looking down on you.”

Other NFL draft prospects have not taken him lightly.

“Coming from a small school, I feel like everyone shows that much more respect because there’s not many small school players who get drafted,” Ducasse said.

While Ducasse continues to work on his skills, he hasn’t forgotten about what happened recently back home.

After he finished his week at the Senior Bowl, Ducasse put up his signed jerseys used during practice and the game as well as autographed cards, with the proceeds going towards relief efforts in Haiti. Although he knows that the wealth that is part of being an NFL player and will be his soon, he said he sees football as much of a philanthropic tool as it is a profession.

Ducasse’s agent, Joe Linta, has been helping him with coordinating the charity and putting his status as one of the nation’s top collegiate offensive linemen to use.

“[Football] is just my ability, but [Haiti] is the place I was born and raised, so I just feel like if I wasn’t playing football and didn’t have those skills, I still would want to do stuff like that, but I think it’s easier to get more people involved,” Ducasse said.

Rather than using his first paycheck to buy a big house or a fancy car, Ducasse wants to donate some of the money that he’ll earn as an NFL player to Haiti and help his family.

He also wants to use his influence to encourage others to follow his generosity, because as much as he is a football player, he is someone who cares about the well-being of others first.

Adam Miller can be reached at amiller@dailycollegian.com.

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