Saturday, January 30, 2010

Video: Haiti native Vladimir Ducasse training for NFL Draft, keeping an eye on homeland

By Mike Garafolo/The Star-Ledger

Vladimir Ducasse says of his apartment in Somerset: 'I have a place to stay and I have food to eat. There’s not more I can ask for.'

MOBILE, Ala. — Vladimir Ducasse’s agent, Joe Linta, has been representing NFL players for several decades and has had to take care of all kinds of demands from his clients. So when Ducasse wasn’t asking for anything at all the past couple of weeks, Linta was stunned.

It turns out Ducasse’s apartment in Somerset has offered plenty.

“I have a place to stay and I have food to eat,” Ducasse, the former UMass offensive tackle, said Monday after his first practice at the Senior Bowl. “There’s not more I can ask for.”

Especially after seeing what’s happened to his homeland recently.

The Haiti native, who has been training at TEST Sports Clubs in Martinsville and will continue to do so leading up to April’s draft, has been through an emotional couple of weeks.

It began with a text message on Jan. 12, as he was preparing to go to sleep, that informed him a massive earthquake had hit his homeland. Ducasse turned on the TV to see the destruction and immediately began worrying about his relatives. It would be a few days before he could make contact with all of them and confirm they were safe and on their way to Miami.

“Two weeks before the biggest moment of your life, this happens,” said Kevin Jones, Ducasse’s coach at Stamford (Conn.) High School who has accompanied his former player here. “That threw a curveball at him. Now, that he knows everybody’s safe, that’s been a huge weight off his shoulders.

“But his goal right now is to focus on (football).”

And to use his opportunity to call attention to the recovery in Haiti.

“The next time Tiger Woods pops up, (the earthquake) is going to be off CNN,” Jones said. “Vladimir knows it’s going to be a long, long recovery and he’ll do his part to help it out. The best way to help is to be a high draft pick, be a high-profile guy, and use his status to keep this on the forefront.”

Ducasse left Haiti in 2005 with his brother to receive a better education in America. He didn’t speak much English and hadn’t played a down of football until Jones encouraged the big, young man to give the sport a chance. Ducasse made an early commitment to UMass and refused to renege on it when a few larger-profile programs made a push.

Four years later, the player scouts here have dubbed “The Dancing Bear” because of his large frame (6-5, 326 pounds) and excellent feet is on the verge of making millions of dollars as a late-first- to third-round pick.

“I feel like I’m really fortunate to be here playing,” Ducasse said. “I’m looking back to where I started, it’s been a long way. It’s very good. I just feel blessed.”

Ducasse didn’t need another reminder of his good fortune Monday, but he got one anyway. After being reamed by one of the Detroit Lions coaches for failing to finish a block on Wisconsin defensive end O’Brien Schofield, Ducasse mauled Schofield on the next rep. Schofield went down with a knee injury and had to be helped off the field. Schofield later confirmed he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on the play.

“What happened to him,” Ducasse said, “I’m a little down about that right now.”

Yet another emotional swing Ducasse has had to endure and move past.

Mike Garafolo may be reached at


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