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2021 NFL Draft: Introducing Drew Himmelman, Illinois State’s towering OT prospect

Illinois State Athletics

While the skill position players make the highlight reel on Sunday afternoon, everyone knows football games are won and lost in the trenches.

That’s why I’m introducing you to Illinois State offensive tackle Drew Himmelman. Himmelman earned First-Team FCS All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association in 2019, and is poised for a big year in 2020 as well. He’s a prospect that’s firmly on the NFL radar.

Himmelman recently spoke exclusively with MCM about how he’s working to better himself in 2020, some of the best defensive linemen he’s ever done battle with, and how he handles a powerful pass rusher differently from a speedy one.

JM: How have you been working to ensure this is your best season yet?

DH: I’ve really just been following the plan that our strength staff set out for us. The pandemic has of course thrown a wrench in our plans, but I’m lucky enough to have a pretty good set-up at my house. My dad built a home gym for me in our basement when I was in high school. I’ve been using that. We have enough equipment to where I’ve been able to manage.

JM: What can you tell me about the scheme that Illinois State runs on offense?

DH: It’s pretty diverse. We run some power. We also run some zone. We have some RPO’s. We try to stretch the field. [Quarterback] Brady [Davis] can really sling it. We’re a diverse offense that can do a lot of different things.

JM: What’s your favorite part about playing the tackle position?

DH: My favorite part is the teamwork that goes into it. You obviously have five guys on the O-line, and it takes for all five of us to be on the same page in order for us to be successful. I love that all five of us have to basically see through the same set of eyes. I love going out there with some of the best athletes in the world. We have to work together in order to accomplish a common goal.

JM: On that topic, what are three traits an offensive linemen must possess in order to be successful?

DH: I would definitely say communication. That’s first and foremost. That plays into what I just said, how we all have to see the game through the same set of eyes. You have to communicate with your fellow O-linemen. Awareness is also a big one. As you get older and start to go through the different levels of football, from little league to college, the defense is going to get smarter and smarter. They’re constantly trying to trick you, and you really have to be aware of situational football. You have to know your assignment. Lastly, I would say physicality. Obviously it’s a very physical position. You’re always trying to beat the man in front of you physically. You have to possess communication, awareness and physicality.

JM: That’s a terrific answer. Who are some of the best defensive linemen that you’ve played against?

DH: I have two names that really come to mind. Derrek Tuszka is one of them. He was just drafted by the Denver Broncos. He played his college football at North Dakota State. I played against him twice last year. He’s fantastic. The defensive end from UNI, Elerson Smith also comes to mind. He’s another really good one.

JM: Both of those guys are great players. Do you feel you’re more developed in pass protection or as a run blocker at this point in time?

DH: I would say pass protection. Obviously I have a lot to work on in both aspects of the game, but I feel like my size and length favors me best in pass protection.

JM: How do you handle the speed rush differently from a bull rush?

DH: For a bull rush guy, they’re not usually quite as fast. You really just wanna get on that guy and take his power away. I try to latch onto those power guys as quickly as I can. You can’t let that guy get a full head of steam. For speed guys, I really try to focus on kicking back into my set as quickly as I can. You have to play a little patient with them. They’re always trying to get you to whiff with your punch. That’s when they use their athletic ability to get around you. I try to play patient with the speed guys.

JM: That’s great. Who are some offensive linemen that you watched and idolized growing up?

DH: I’m a huge Bears fan. I’ve watched a lot of them. This may sound sacrilegious to a Bears fan, but I really enjoy watching the Packers O-line. Due to regional reasons, I catch a lot of Packers games on television. They have a fantastic O-line. I really enjoy watching David Bakhtiari. Nate Solder is another guy that I really enjoy watching. I’ve been compared to him in the past. I try to study his game.

JM: Those are two great offensive linemen. Do you have a preferred pass set?

DH: Not really. I try to stay flexible. I look at how my opponent lines up and take things from there. I pay attention to what sort of rusher he is. I try to keep them guessing throughout the game.

JM: If you could block for one NFL quarterback, who would you choose and why?

DH: That’s a great question. There are so many great quarterbacks out there. Can I choose two?

JM: I’ll allow it.

DH: I would say either Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson. They’re very mobile guys. They can hide your mistakes by being able to escape the pressure. From the outside looking in, they both seem like fantastic leaders to me. It would be a great atmosphere to play in.

JM: Great choices. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Drew. In closing, what can Illinois State fans expect from you in 2020?

DH: They can expect a great season. Hopefully we actually have a season. Everybody is working so hard right now. We’re facing some adversity and everybody is doing the best they can. They can expect great things from me.