How does a kid from a small town manage to get a scholarship to play Division I football?
Isaiahh Loudermilk's road to the NFL was an unlikely one. For starters, he came from Howard, Kansas, a town so small its population is a mere 602 people. To put into perspective, West Elk could not afford to have a traditional football team due to its population size. As a result, they were forced to play 8-man football with schools from the surrounding areas. Yet even with this, Loudermilk was so dominant he could not help but attract the attention from Division I schools. Eventually, Loudermilk would pass up his hoop dreams to play college football at the University of Wisconsin.
In his freshman year with the Badgers, Loudermilk was featured in 11 games, produced 1.5 sacks with 10 total tackles, with two of them for loss. The following season, Loudermilk would increase his tackles to 15, with 2.5 tackles for loss and three passes defended. In his junior year, he would set career highs in tackles (24), sacks (3), and tackles for loss (5). In addition, he would add four passes defended with two forced fumbles. In his senior year, he would earn All-Big Ten third team and All-Big Ten honorable mention. In nine games, Loudermilk registered 13 tackles, with 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
If one were to look solely at his statistics, the decision of trading into the fifth round of this year's NFL Draft is perceivably questionable. When viewing him on film, his skill set suggested that he was a player who was far better than his career numbers suggests. If anything, the Pittsburgh Steelers may have found one of the biggest steals in the draft based on value.
Explosive and Quick
One of the underrated aspects of Loudermilk's overall game is his get-off. When seeing him on film, he is surprisingly quick and explosive coming out of his stance. What is even more impressive is his ability to maintain an optimal pad level in doing so. Considering that he stands over 6'6, one would expect his first move is to stand when coming out of his stance. Instead, he consistently tries to stay low to win leverage over an opposing offensive lineman.
In this sequence against Minnesota, Loudermilk is seen position on the inside shoulder of the right guard, or in 2i-technique. The ball is snapped, Loudermilk explodes out which staying low when executing his swim technique. Before the Gopher's running back can even cut upfield, he is already met in backfield by Loudermilk, who records a tackle for loss. A short but impressive sequence which displays his quickness.
Loudemilk bears and impressive 81¼-inch wingspan, which he is excellent at using it to his advantage. The most notable way is his ability to extend and create separation, in addition to his optimal use of pad level. The combination of both skills has enabled him to win many one-on-one battles against opposing offensive linemen, as one will see in this next example.
In this sequence against Northwestern, notice how Loudermilk is positioned in 2i-technique. As one will see in later in this clip, it was a calculated move on his part. When the ball is snapped, Loudermilk explodes out, but stays low in the process. Once he makes contact, he extends his left arm, which not only creates separation need to track the ball carrier, it also allows him to win leverage. When spots the ball carrier, he disengages and makes a tackle for loss.
In this sequence against Michigan State, Loudermilk is positioned as the left defensive end in 2-technique. When the ball is snapped, Loudermilk comes hard out of his stance, once again, maintaining a low pad level. He does a good job get his hands underneath the Michigan State lineman's shoulder pads, and starts driving him backwards. Loudermilk's technique is excellent on this sequence, but his natural power is on full display as he drives the lineman back several yards, where is able to get to the quarterback and record a sack. His strength is an underrated aspect of his overall skill set.
Loudermilk is perhaps the most intriguing prospect of the Steelers 2021 draft class. In the same way, he is the type of prospect that could surprise fans with his athleticism and other natural abilities. Though they have a reasonable amount of depth at defensive line, which includes players like Isaiah Buggs and Chris Wormley, Loudermilk's ceiling could be higher than all of them. As any rookie, he will have much to prove in training camp if he wants to gain a spot on the roster. For this young man who overcame the odds to make the NFL, it is likely a challenge he is familiar with.