Derrick Ming stands at the edge of his dream.
It is close — so close that the former MU linebacker has only a few days to wait before finding out whether his football career will continue in the NFL. But as that reckoning draws near, Ming remembers a coach in his life that helped bring him this far — Cliff Ice. The dream he is so close to accomplishing would have been nearly impossible without Ice’s influence.
Ming’s career began in earnest his freshman year of high school. He attended Webster Groves in St. Louis, where he played varsity as a freshman. He excelled at football because he was a gifted athlete, but his career had been bumpy. In the preceding two years, Ming had butted heads with the coaching staff, and he had a few minor disciplinary problems to go with a less-than-stellar academic record.
Then Ice took over Webster Groves’ football program after Ming’s sophomore year. Ice changed Ming for the better.
“Before I met coach Ice, I kind of got frustrated pretty easily,” Ming said. “And I didn’t handle that in a positive way. Over time, he just helped me develop (so that) I turned negatives into positives.”
Ice sat down with him on several occasions and talked about the various academic requirements for playing NCAA football. He told Ming he had a choice — either improve his grades and play at a big college, or keep going the route he was going and play at the junior college level.
His mother, Patricia Ming, said when her son realized his coaches supported him and wanted him to succeed, he weighed his options and decided to improve his grades.
“He realized how smart he was and he’s had success in the classroom ever since then,” Ice said.
His undergraduate academic career in college was drastically different from the one he had early in high school. He was a two-time pick for the second-team of the Big 12 All-Academic team. He graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in general agriculture and he is working on a master’s in health education. If he doesn’t go on to the NFL, he now has options for another career as a high school coach.
No doubt remains in Ming — he is grateful for the guidance he received.
“I think, without coach Ice, I probably wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now,” Ming said.
Ming also credits his mother with being supportive of his goals, no matter what they were.
“She’s been a rock for me... she raised me right, and no matter what she was making at work, she always provided for me (with) what she could,” Ming said. “She deserves the most credit.”
Ming will be ready if an NFL team calls him on draft weekend, April 29-30.
“He’s excited,” Patricia Ming said. “It’s what he wants – and hopefully what he’ll get, but (his family) is in his corner all of the way.”
He has been preparing and he is open to the idea of changing positions if a team wants him to.
Ming has been hitting the weights hard to enhance his draft chances after a senior season in which he racked up 81 tackles and four forced fumbles. He does different drills to make him more flexible, because when he runs the 40-yard dash he has to run all-out, and he wants to avoid pulling a muscle. The lunges and backward running Ming does are not designed to add bulk, but to make him quicker, more agile and more attractive to an NFL team.
Those workouts enabled the 5-foot-11, 245 pound linebacker to run a 4.47 40-yard dash at MU’s pro day this spring. MU coach Gary Pinkel said Ming’s combination of size and athleticism makes him a candidate for an NFL roster spot. He said some scouts might question his height, but that his bulk is more than adequate.
At the workouts, scouts requested he work out for a few repetitions as a fullback. Ming is not sure what NFL position he might play, but he doesn’t have a preference. He recognizes that the chance to play in the NFL is a rare one.
“I think linebackers and fullbacks, if you actually look at how they play on the field, they’re almost the same position,” Ming said. “If you want to be a linebacker, you have to come down and fill the gap. And who’s going to be there to attack you? The fullback. So it’s the same intensity — at any position — for that matter.”
Ming also played special teams throughout college, and he is willing to play them again to land a spot on an NFL roster.
Perhaps his attention to learning in the classroom carried over to the football field. He feels his ability to absorb a playbook, whether an offensive playbook or a defensive one, is one of his greatest strengths. If he plays as a linebacker, learning the playbook is even more important, because middle linebackers frequently make calls for the defense. Pinkel said Ming showed the ability to make adjustments in the defense at MU.
Ming has experience on the offensive side of the ball, having played both defense and offense during high school. Originally, he was headed to Kansas to play as a tailback. But then he chose Missouri because the Tigers offered him the opportunity to play defense. After the Baltimore Ravens’ win in Super Bowl XXXV, he was in a defensive frame of mind. Ray Lewis’ performance caused him to want to be on the side delivering the hits, instead of absorbing them.
Pinkel said Ming is responsible and cares about his teammates. Ice clearly sees that in him, along with his football talent.
“You can never have too many good guys in the locker room,” Ice said. “And, obviously, physically, he’s a big, fast, strong kid. I think you can’t have too many quality people in the locker room, and he’s a quality guy. He’s a guy you can count on.”