Jovan Belcher, the 25-year-old Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and former UMaine player who police said shot his girlfriend and himself dead on Saturday, had fought his way into the National Football League the hard way.
The Long Island, New York, 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 said on the Chiefs’ website 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.
In fact, when Belcher was recruited by the University of Maine, it was as a wrestler, not as a football player, UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove said Saturday. The school took a chance with Belcher in his freshman year by putting him on the football team.
“He’s truly one of the great stories in the program’s history,” Cosgrove said.
UMaine, part of the Colonial Athletic Association, is away from the national media spotlight and scrutiny of many of the scouts looking for potential NFL talent.
The linebacker started all 45 games while completing a degree in child development in just 3½ years, 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 2009 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 and made 38 tackles.