DeShone Kizer getting dose of Rocket science at NFL Combine from former Irish star

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

INDIANAPOLIS — Only the gray stubble on Rocket Ismail’s chin belies the fact that the former Notre Dame football All-American didn’t just escape from a time capsule.

It’s not just the well-preserved looks or a physique that hints that the 47-year-old could easily beat all three of ND’s current NFL Scouting Combine participants — QB DeShone Kizer, and defensive linemen Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones — in a 40-yard dash.

It’s the bounce in his voice, almost evangelistic in its cadence and vehemence, that reinforces his timeless charisma.

“This is the most inspirational man I’ve ever met,” former Irish quarterback Brady Quinn offered, after bounding across a crowded ballroom to embrace an electric player from another era at Notre Dame. “You walk in a room, and the temperature changes.”

That’s probably one of the reasons Ismail was at the 2017 NFL Combine in Indianapolis this past week and continuing on through Monday. He’s one of the NFL Legends community serving as a mentor for the 331 combine participants.

Ismail, whose own decade-long pro career actually started with a controversial and lucrative two-year run in the Canadian Football League, was thrilled to discover upon his arrival in Indianapolis midweek that the group of wide receivers and quarterbacks assigned specifically to him included ND’s Kizer.

“Oh man, he has everything he needs to succeed at the next level,” Ismail said of his impressions of Kizer, who threw for scouts, ran the 40 (4.83 seconds) and performed other physical testing on Saturday.

“I suspect the Irish nation is going to be proud of him for years and years and years to come. I plan on exchanging information with him, so we can continue to keep the conversation going after the combine is over.”

One of the subjects Ismail will touch on is Kizer’s plan, or lack thereof, to finish his Notre Dame education. Once the NFL opened its doors to underclassmen in 1989, the wide receiver/running back/kick returner became the first true junior at ND to take advantage of the rule, in 1991.

Kizer is the 14th such player at ND and the sixth true junior in the last four draft cycles. Of the 13 who preceded Kizer only Ismail, defensive back Tom Carter, running back Darius Walker and, most recently, quarterback Jimmy Clausen came back and finished their degree work.

“How tough is it to finish? There are two thoughts,” Ismail said. “You either do it right away, or you’re going to do it like when you’re in your 40s. So I’m happy Sister Kathleen (Gilbert) and the academic advisers stayed on me. That really helped me.

“Literally, when I was in Canada, Sister Kathleen is calling me, ‘OK Rocket, your spring semester schedule is …’

“I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, Sister Kathleen, I’m professional now.’

“She said, ‘No, you are coming to class and you promised your mother.’

“ ‘Oh yeah, you’re right.’

“And I graduated in April of 1994. I’m so glad I did, because as I get older, I realize it’s very important when you start something significant, to see the process all the way through.”

Living in the Dallas area now, after spending his final three pro seasons as a member of the Cowboys, fatherhood takes top priority. He has four kids, ranging in age from 14 to 20.

“Ninety percent of what I do is as a husband and father,” he said. “The other 10 percent is literally this kind of stuff (mentoring at the combine) and speaking engagements occasionally.

“I’m trying to raise productive children. For me it’s really important for me to be there for them in a quality way and a quantity way too.”

Yet he still manages time to keep tabs on his alma mater’s football team.

“I feel like we’re in good hands,” Ismail said of eighth-year head coach Brian Kelly, coming off a 4-8 season. “Just because things didn’t work out last year the way we wanted to, it’s not time to hit the panic button.

“I like what I’m seeing and hearing. And I think Notre Dame football will be back in 2017.”

Combine takeaways

Kizer got high marks for his throwing drills Saturday from NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who continues to rate the former Irish QB as the best prospect at his position in the draft.

Kizer wasn’t as impressive in some of the physical testing. His 4.83 40 time ranked ninth among the 12 QBs that participated. His vertical jump (30.5 inches) was eighth among 13, while his standing broad jump (107 inches) was 11th of 13 and his 20-yard shuttle time (4.53 seconds) was last among 12.

The defensive line group will do most of its physical testing on Sunday, but those players did get started, with their bench press testing, on Saturday.

End Isaac Rochell did 25 reps at 225 pounds, tying him for 13th place among the 49 defensive linemen. Tackle Jones put up 22 reps.

Former Notre Dame All-American Rocket Ismail is serving as a mentor for NFL Draft hopefuls during the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/BEN LEIBENBERG)