The San Francisco 49ers made Eli Harold their third round selection Friday evening in the 2015 NFL Draft. He chatted with the media later in the evening via conference call. The transcript went out after I went to bed, but I wanted to make sure everybody got a chance to check it out. He sounds very excited about coming out to Santa Clara, but he also sounds like a very confident individual. He expected to go higher in the draft, and feels he has a sizable chip on his shoulder with the drop. I'm always a fan of players feeling they have something extra to prove!
What was your reaction when you got the phone call?
"You know, it popped up on my phone as a Cali number. And then I looked at the screen, it just feels surreal. Going through the things I've been through. To have the opportunity to live out my dream, to share this moment with my family is just incredible."
Did you know it was the 49ers when you saw the California phone number?
"When I looked on the TV, San Fran was the next Cali team and immediately I just broke down."
Did you have any contact with the 49ers in the run up to the draft?
"I didn't. That is what's so surprising. I had a meeting with them at the combine and up to that point, I never really had any contact with any of the coaches or scouts besides the phone call and them making sure this was my draft day number."
Was there anything in that meeting that you remember that stands out about your time with the coaches and Trent Baalke?
"You know, I don't remember. The night I met with them I had over 20 meetings, you know, and everything was moving so fast. And then the next day I was so worried about performing at the combine I really didn't have the opportunity to really lock anything from that meeting in my head because I was running around. You know, my heart was racing 1000 miles per hour, meeting all these coaches and you know, general managers, I was so nervous. Honestly, I can't think of anything."
Have you ever met LB Ahmad Brooks?
"No, I didn't. It's so crazy, you know, he went to UVA. Watching him on Sundays, you know, his name is hung up at my university everywhere you look. You know, his picture is everywhere. To have the opportunity to play with a guy that went to the same school as I did and being a seasoned veteran, it's amazing having this opportunity. I can't wait to meet him and learn from him. He's helped me, I shared my story with him. And it is just incredible. Everyone has a path, everyone has a story and I can't wait."
Eli, how do you envision your career going? What are you going to bring to the NFL?
"I'm going to bring a lot of passion, toughness. I feel like I'm a natural born leader. I feel like I learn very quickly and I feel like I'm an athletic guy who can make noise on special teams. Basically, do whatever the coach asks me to do. I think my best asset is my toughness and my leadership capabilities.'"
Is it bittersweet at all that you are going in the third round? Your name had come up some as far as end of the first round or beginning of the second. What are your thoughts on that?
"You know, initially, it was shocking. Last night, seeing the guys at my position going before me, I kind of expected it. But as the second round was boiling down, I got kind of down. I was very upset. I was just waiting for my opportunity when I got the phone call. And just being the 49ers, I just feel like that will be a perfect fit for me. Initially, I was shocked. Having a late first round, second round grade and falling to the third, I was upset."
Growing up on the other side of the country and playing over there as well, what do you know about this organization, it's history, traditions, things like that about the 49ers?
"Honestly, in my area I know [LB] Aldon Smith, I know Ahmad Brooks. I really don't know much being on the east coast, growing up a [Washington] fan. I stopped watching pro football when I got to UVA. We never had time on Sundays to watch the games because we were meeting a lot and lifting on Sundays and running. So, I really couldn't follow it. When I hear the word 49ers, I immediately think of Aldon Smith, or a guy like Ahmad Brooks."
Is there somebody that you kind of pattern your game after?
"[Seattle Seahawks LB] Bruce Irvin, but I remember I had picture on my iPad of Aldon Smith and I set it as my background my freshman year at UVA. He was a guy I felt like I had similarities to him. He's a long, athletic guy and I really felt like I could be there one day where his success level is. A guy I could really model myself after."
Have you picked up any moves from him or have you studied him?
"I would watch before games my freshman year. I would watch highlights, pump up videos. I would watch guys like Aldon Smith, [Denver Broncos LB] Von Miller and Bruce Irvin. Those are three guys I really model myself after. Like I said before, pregame my freshman year, those are the guys that I would watch."
I think you're listed at 247. What do you see as your optimal playing weight?
"Say that again?"
I think you're listed at 247 pounds. The 49ers outside linebackers, I think LB Aldon Smith is about 265. Do you see yourself eventually being in that range?
"Well, right now I'm 251. So, I feel like, being a rookie, I feel like I can hold 255, 256 very solid being my playing weight. I don't know. I just turned 21. My metabolism is finally slowing down. I'm now eating correctly. So, I really, I honestly don't know where my body will be. But, I really think that it's far from being maxed out. I feel like I have a while to go on my weight."
You've mentioned some of the outside linebackers. It seems like you're in a situation where you don't have to come in and be expected to play right away. Is that OK with you? Is that kind of a good situation to kind of ease into things?
"It's a great situation. I really do feel like it's a great situation for me. Having two veteran guys who've seen it all and done it all, been to Pro Bowls, been top sack guys in the league. I just feel like it's the best situation for me, not having played linebacker at the college level, having my hand down a lot. I really think I can cover, but I didn't have that responsibility when I was at college. So, coming into a role where I'm not high on the depth chart I feel like learning from the veterans and guys that will really help me out a lot."
You mentioned leadership a couple of times. Were you a guy inside the UVA locker room who would give speeches and would sort of rally the team?
"Yes sir. From my freshman year when I first came in I was playing right away and guys listened to me. Growing up my teachers would always tell my mother, ‘Eli has, he's just such a leader. Everybody always rallies to him.' I could tell a guy to do anything. Not saying it's a negative thing, but I've always been able to tell a guy and change his mind and get him to do what I want him to do. Not saying that to be negative, but I feel like that's something God blessed me with. To have that leadership ability as a kid and now, I feel like I've grown being older, being a 21-year-old, leading in a positive way. I remember my sophomore year at UVA when the teams would score on us, I'd be down on the sideline, I'd be pissed and moaning around. But, this year I really felt myself grow. When we would be down in games I'd be picking everyone else up. So, I feel like my leadership capabilities have grown over the years."
And you didn't play any standing up in college?
"Yes, I did this year."
Oh you did, OK. And that transition was, how did that go?
"It was perfect. I felt faster. I felt I could see the formations, see the play better. It really helped me out a lot. I felt like it helped me out leading to the Combine, pre-Combine training. I felt like I proved to the league that I could drop in coverage and have an athletic role on the field and not just going forward but also moving backwards and flipping my hips as well."
How quickly do you turn those hurt feelings you had for dropping in the Draft to motivation?
"Well, I've had so much. I've had a chip on my shoulder ever since I lost my brother and my mom a month apart. So, you know, this is just adding fuel to my fire. Not having teams believe in me. Not believing that I was a late one or an early two or even a late two, but dropping to the third round. I just feel like I'm going to use that as my motivation to really help me push me through my NFL career. I'll never forget this moment, like I'll never forget the day my mother passed away. From that moment I felt like I was a ball of fire. Everyone I touched, they felt it. Everyone I've been around, I've had an impact in that area wherever I was, in the community or in the field on the locker room. I've just always had a chip on my shoulder and now it's just getting bigger."
Have you been to California before?
"Never. I have never been to California."
Are you heading out here tomorrow?
"I don't know. The coaches are calling me later on tonight and explaining everything. But, as of now I honestly do not know."
Which coach did you talk to?
"I think it was the defensive coordinator and I talked to a personnel director. But, the position coach is supposed to be in contact with me later on tonight."
Since you discussed it a little bit, when did that happen, the mom and your brother?
"My junior year in high school. I lost my brother in November and I lost my mom January 1st when I was 15 years old."