By Mike Grenier
Growing up in Salem, Kyle Harrington was a New England Patriots fan.
"Of course, they were my favorite (NFL) team," said Harrington, who played at Salem High and followed it up with an outstanding career at UMass.
Harrington, 23, doesn't like the Patriots any less these days, but beginning today you can say he's also a fan of 31 other NFL teams.
That's not being wishy-washy, it's being realistic. When you're a 6-foot-4, 295 pound defensive tackle and viewed as someone whose stock is rising in the NFL draft process, your allegiances can change very quickly.
"Any team that's willing to take me — that will be my favorite team," said Harrington.
This much seems a lock: Harrington won't be drafted in today's first round. It's also unlikely that he'll go in tomorrow's second or third round.
"I'm no (Ndamukong) Suh," Harrington said with self-deprecating humor while referring to the University of Nebraska superstar defensive tackle who could the No. 1 or No. 2 pick overall.
But on Saturday, when the draft unfolds with the fourth through seventh rounds, Harrington plans to be near a phone at home in Salem.
"That's going to be the biggest day for me, with the late rounds," said Harrington. "Even if nothing happens with the draft, I could get a call from a team that would want me as a free agent. If that happens, it could be somewhat beneficial because I could look at depth charts and see what kind of defense different teams play.
"But of course I would rather be drafted. If some teams wants to draft me, it would feel like a great achievement."
Based on his body of work at UMass, where he made 142 career tackles and was a CAA All-Conference Second Team All-Star last year, and his impressive showing on Pro Day on the Amherst campus on March 25, Harrington has evidently elevated himself onto the NFL radar screen.
The Pro Day results were particularly relevant for Harrington because it happened so recently. Performing for scouts from various teams, Harrington ran the 40-yard dash in 4.87 seconds with the wind and 4.96 seconds against the wind. He also displayed a 26-inch vertical, an 8-4 broad jump and did 43 bench press reps. There were several other drills and while it all sounds technical and perhaps even tedious to the average fan, pro teams take this stuff very seriously.
"I felt pretty comfortable out there," Harrington said of Pro Day. "At one point, the (Philadelphia) Eagles scout took me aside and had me do some drills. He went out of his way to have me do that stuff for him. I thought, 'This is a good thing.'"
A nose tackle at UMass, Harrington got an inkling that he might be NFL draft material when the team's defensive coaches told him in a postseason meeting that he might have the talent to take it to the next level.
Harrington, who graduated with a degree in criminal justice last winter, took his cues from there. He came home and, along with UMass teammate Eric Dickson, became a regular at Mike Boyle's Strength and Conditioning facility in Winchester. NFL players Zak DeOssie (New York Giants), Gosder Cherilus (a Detroit Lions first round choice two years ago) and Nick Hennessey of Danvers (Buffalo Bills) have capitalized on specific programs that have been set up at Boyle's, so the precedent was set for hopefuls like Harrington and Dickson.
Kyle Holland, a strength and conditioning coach at Boyle's Winchester facility, is accustomed to seeing motivated athletes, but Harrington and Dickson took it a step further. They were fanatical about their workouts in anticipation of Pro Day and even after that day passed, they were still showing up. The owners might as well just tell them to bring in sandwiches for the staff since they're there so often..
"We were talking about this a little while ago — this is Week 19 for those guys," Holland said of Harrington and Dickson. "They would come in four days a week (before Pro Day) and they're not done yet.
"With Harrington, he was probably 230-240 (pounds) when he got to UMass, and then he made himself very strong. He had all that horsepower and beef, which is good, but over here we had him dial it down and make it specific for the performance tests he would get from the NFL people. We hammered home the techniques he would need. It's almost like studying for an exam in school."
Armed with knowledge of what would be required and in peak physical condition, Harrington excelled on Pro Day, a development that didn't surprise Holland.
"He's as hard a worker as we've ever had," said Holland. "He shows up early and does the extra things to make himself better. I think Kyle was very happy with the numbers he had on Pro Day. I don't think he expected a sub-5.0 (seconds) in the 40. He was pumped up about that. You have guys who are projected to go high in draft who aren't as fast. It has to help him."
Another UMass player from the North Shore, fullback Chris Zardas of St. John's Prep, also has an outside shot of being drafted. Zardas came back from serious knee injuries early in his career and was a two-year starter, capping it off with a solid senior season in which he carried the ball 43 times for 164 yards and three touchdowns and caught seven passes for 46 yards and a TD. Zardas was recognized as the CAA All-Conference First Team fullback. Zardas is rated No. 17 at the fullback position by CBS Sportsline.com.
"Chris had a great senior year and (NFL) teams took an interest in him," said Harrington.
Meanwhile, Peter Harrington has been watching baby brother Kyle's progress from afar. Peter Harrington, who played for Army, is now serving in Afghanistan and is undoubtedly proud of Kyle. But it works both ways, of course.
"I just talked to my brother (recently), when he called home," said Kyle. "Here he is fighting for our country while I hope to play in the NFL. Those are two extremes. But he's looking forward to coming home and hopefully seeing me play."
SIZING UP KYLE HARRINGTON
Height, weight: 6-foot-4, 295 pounds
Position: Nose tackle/defensive tackle
College football highlights: Played in 38 games, starting in 29, and finished with 142 tackles and six sacks; all-conference second team pick as senior.
Man of strength: Bench press of 435 pounds, ranking second all-time in UMass history.
NFL draft projection: Sixth or seventh round as a DT
Quotable: "With strength like that, they will probably make a nose tackle out of him in the NFL." — Gil Brandt, NFL.com