"Here We Go," Declares Confident Eilers:
Former Footballer Tackles Ultimate Dream
By Loretta Hunt
Justin Eilers knows a thing or two about discipline. As one of the "Big 12" leading tacklers his senior year at Iowa State, the athletic middle linebacker had to adhere to a structured training program or he was out. "You had to eat, you had to lift, and you couldn’t miss nothing or you got in trouble," the Idaho native recalls of his two years with the team that put him on the cusp of the NFL draft. It’s discipline Eilers will call upon come Saturday night, when the heavyweight hopeful enters the race for eventual mixed martial arts gold at UFC 49 against American Kickboxing Academy’s Mike Kyle.
"I was close," Eilers answers when pressed to expound on just how close he came to football’s elite circle just two years ago. "I was on teams’ draft boards. I had an agent. Everything was set."
Not all was "set" though. A nagging shoulder injury convinced the then 24 year old to undergo corrective surgery, and with two months spent healing on the sidelines, Eilers missed the "combines," the NFL’s designated drafting camps, for that year.
With a year to kill till the next selection, Eilers hunted down Jens Pulver’s email address in an old tattered notebook and shot his friend a salutation. The two had fought together on some amateur cards in Idaho before Eilers left for junior college and Pulver relocated to California for a brief stint with Bob Shamrock’s short-lived fighting team. Now, some four years later, neither realized that they were only a couple of hours away from each other.
Armed with two bags of clothes, Eilers made the trip to Davenport, Iowa on Pulver’s invitation, shacking up with the lightweight dynamo that had already risen to UFC championship status, only to later fall upon his departure from the promotion.
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