Jovan Belcher, the 25-year-old Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and former University of Maine player who police said shot himself dead on Saturday, had fought his way into the National Football League the hard way.
The Long Island, N.Y., native was a talented and versatile high school player at West Babylon High School where he also played offensive tackle, nose guard and fullback and led his team to their first undefeated season as a senior.
Belcher also was a successful youth wrestler. He won three All-American selections in a sport he told the Chiefs’ website that had helped him develop the character needed to try to break into the top U.S. professional league.
“I think it helped build my whole mentality, to never give up and just keep fighting. Wrestling was a big part of it and it still is,” he said in an interview with the Chiefs this month.
Belcher was recruited by the University of Maine, who play in the Colonial Athletic Association, away from the national media spotlight and the scrutiny of many of the scouts looking for potential NFL talent.
The linebacker started all 45 games while completing a degree in child development, and his performances impressed enough to earn him reviews as one of the most promising players from a “small school.”
“He was a pass-rushing terror at Maine. … He’s a bit of a work in progress yet has shown the underlying skills to develop into a productive starter at the next level,” read one pre-draft scouting report.
Belcher went undrafted in the 2009 draft but his disappointment ended when the Chiefs offered him a chance.
Establishing himself as a starter in his second and third years after initially breaking in through special teams, he had 171 tackles and as a restricted free agent, agreed in March to a one-year deal worth just under $2 million.
This season Belcher started 10 of 11 games making 38 tackles.