Hank Fraley (Robert Morris – Cleveland Browns), Miles Austin (Monmouth – Dallas Cowboys), Jon Corto (Sacred Heart – Buffalo Bills), John Nalbone (Monmouth – Miami Dolphins), and Leigh Bodden (Duquesne – New England Patriots) all played collegiately for one of the NEC’s current member institutions and now play professionally in the NFL.
In addition to the five aforementioned names, who all appear on active 53-man NFL rosters, UAlbany alumni Rashad Barksdale (Arizona Cardinals) and Andre Coleman (San Diego Chargers) are assigned to NFL practice squads.
Former three-time all-NEC first team offensive tackle Hank Fraley (photo) is set for his 10th season in an NFL uniform. The longest-tenured NFL player the NEC has ever produced, Fraley now mans the center position for the Cleveland Browns. The Robert Morris alumnus began his professional career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2000 and has made 119 starts since 2001. The 31-year old Fraley, who stands at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, has started every game for the Browns in each of the past three seasons.
Monmouth graduate Miles Austin (photo) earned three all-NEC first team selections before latching on with the Dallas Cowboys in 2006. The second-leading receiver in NEC history, Austin has caught 13 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns in the professional ranks. Austin, who initially broke into the lineup as a kick returner, has an opportunity to emerge as the Cowboys’ top receiver this season following the departure of Terrell Owens. In 37 games spanning three NFL seasons, the former Hawk has registered 15 special teams tackles while returning 82 kickoffs for a 24.3 yards per return average.
Austin’s final season in the NEC was John Nalbone’s first. The two all-NEC performers were part of the league’s top-ranked scoring offense in 2005. Four years later, the two meet again in the NFL. After graduating as the most-accomplished tight end in Monmouth history, Nalbone was a fifth-round draft pick by the Miami Dolphins.
Sacred Heart alumnus Jon Corto has made the Buffalo Bills’ final 53-man roster for the second consecutive season. Corto spent the 2007 campaign on Buffalo’s practice squad before his elevation to the active roster last season. A Western New York native playing for his hometown team, he made 10 tackles and forced one fumble in 16 games last year.
Duquesne’s all-time leader in interceptions (28), Leigh Bodden is set for his seventh professional season. Bodden, whose former college team joined the NEC in 2008, has started in 53 NFL games since 2003. He has made 13 career interceptions, and will always be remembered for the impression he made on Cincinnati Bengals’ Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ocho Cinco. Cincinnati’s eccentric All-Pro told the Akron Beacon Journal that Bodden was the “one guy” to successfully cover him during the 2005 season. Following five seasons with the Browns (2003-07) and one with the Detroit Lions (2008), Bodden finds himself as the starting right cornerback for the New England Patriots.
Note: Leigh Bodden (Hyattsville, Md.) played at Duquesne from 1999-2002. The Dukes competed in non-defunct Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Football League at that time.
Barksdale (photo) and Coleman each played for the Great Danes in 2006, helping Albany to its first-ever national ranking, before moving onto the professional ranks. Barksdale was a sixth-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007 and, after being released, eventually found himself on the Kansas City Chiefs 53-man roster for the start of the regular season. He was a member of the New York Jets this past preseason before signing onto the Cardinal’s practice squad. Coleman, a two-time all-NEC defensive lineman, signed with the San Diego Chargers in 2007 and has been a on the team’s practice squad ever since. NFL teams may carry up to eight players on their practice squads and can active those players onto the 53-man roster during the season.
The Northeast Conference’s presence in the professional football ranks may grow before season’s end. Former NEC greats Justise Hairston (Central Connecticut State) and Piotr Czech (Wagner) find themselves on a list of available NFL free agents.
Hairston, a 2006 Walter Payton Award finalist, was signed by the Buffalo Bills this past offseason, but injury prevented the former sixth-round draft choice (New England) from engaging in preseason activity. Czech, who kicked the three longest field goals in Northeast Conference annals, spent the 2009 preseason as a member of the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.