Four Redbirds Sign With NFL Teams After The Draft

April 28, 2013

NORMAL, Ill. - A quartet of Illinois State football players signed non-drafted free agent deals with NFL teams Saturday to continue their football careers at the professional level. Quarterback Matt Brown (Green Bay Packers), safety Ben Ericksen (Green Bay Packers) and linebackers Evan Frierson (Houston Texans) and Mike Zimmer (Jacksonville Jaguars) each signed deals after the NFL Draft was completed.

They join defensive end/linebacker Nate Palmer, who was selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by Green Bay, as players who finished their careers at ISU in 2012 headed to NFL camps soon. They will join the likes of Tom Nelson (Chicago Bears) and Cody White (Houston Texans) in the NFL and each will fight for invites to training camp and spots on 53-man rosters in the fall.



This group of seniors helped ISU to four-straight winning campaigns for the first time in over 50 years, and led the Redbirds to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs for the third time in school history. In 2012, the team posted just the third nine-win season in program history and finished the year ranked in the top-10 of both national polls.

ISU head coach Brock Spack is proud of the five Redbird players headed to NFL rookie camps and hopes each continues to work hard to achieve their goals of playing professional football.

“I’m happy for all of our guys and they have worked really hard to get these opportunities with NFL teams,” Spack said. “It’s humbling to know that NFL teams think highly of the players we’ve helped develop over the past four years at Illinois State and I think that says a lot about what we do with our players in the weight room with the help of Jim Lathrop and on the field through coaching. The biggest credit goes to the players, though, because ultimately they do the work and this group of guys has been able to turn that effort into a chance to play professional football. To be drafted or signed as a free agent in the NFL is an honor, and we are proud of them and hope they all do well.”

Matt Brown | QB | 6-4 | 220 | Signed by Green Bay Packers

A four-year starter for the Redbirds, Brown finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in pass attempts (1,455), completions (927), passing yards (10,591), passing touchdowns (78), completion percentage (63.7), passing yards per game (230.2), total offense yards (10,952) and touchdowns responsible for (87). The Marion, Ill., native also finished his career as the Missouri Valley Football Conference all-time leader in five different passing categories.

During his senior campaign in 2012, Brown set seven school single-season records including passing yards (3,370), passing touchdowns (27), completion percentage (65.0), total offense yards (3,522) and touchdowns responsible for (34), on way to being named a First-Team All-MVFC selection and the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year. He recorded four 300-plus yard passing performances and added seven games with two or more touchdown passes, while leading the Redbirds to the FCS playoff quarterfinals and an overtime win over nationally-ranked Appalachian State.

Spack on Brown: “I was talking to a few guys in the NFL about Matt and I told them he has what it takes to be a third quarterback in just about any NFL system right now. He has some upside left in him and can certainly improve at the next level. He's big, strong guy with a strong, accurate arm that can make every throw in the NFL. I think he's going to be a good pro and he's got that winner's mentality, which makes him a great fit in Green Bay.

Ben Ericksen | S | 6-1 | 200 | Signed by Green Bay Packers

Ericksen was named a Third-Team All-America selection by The Sports Network and the Associated Press in 2012 and was also picked for the College Sporting News 2012 Fabulous Fifty FCS All-America Team. A native of Greendale, Wis., Ericksen earned All-MVFC First-Team plaudits, after he finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country in interceptions per game and led the MVFC with seven picks. He also ranked sixth on the team with 67 tackles and added one sack and 3.5 tackles-for-loss in just his second season playing free safety, after starting his career at ISU as a wide receiver.

Spack on Ericksen: “Ben has the biggest upside of all the guys because he's only played safety for two years and has developed very few bad habits. He's very fast and tested off the charts at the couple of pro days and workouts he had with NFL teams. I thought Ben was going to get drafted because of those testing number and he's a tremendous athlete. He had a great senior year and he can also return kicks, which could help him make the team because of the importance of special teams in the NFL.”

Evan Frierson | LB | 6-2 | 240 | Signed by Houston Texans

Frierson will head to Houston for its minicamp, June 11-13, and will be greeted by a couple of former teammates in former Redbird offensive tackle White and former Illinois defensive lineman Whitney Mercilus.

Frierson was stellar at outside linebacker for the Redbirds in two seasons, after transferring from the Illini. A 2012 All-MVFC Honorable Mention selection, Frierson ranked fourth on the team with 72 tackles and added 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss. The Washington, D.C., native recorded a season-best 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles-for-loss in the second-round road victory at Appalachian State.

In his first season at ISU in 2011, Frierson was named an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference First-Team selection and to the MVFC All-Newcomer Team. He led the team and was second in the Valley with 15 tackles-for-loss and ranked second on the team with 66 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

Spack on Frierson: “Evan is a big, physical guy who is powerful and looks the part of an NFL linebacker. He worked very hard here to make himself better and I think he will be a very good player for Houston. We played him at outside linebacker because we had a need there, but I think he's more of a natural inside linebacker and I think he'll physically be able to handle that position in the NFL.”

Mike Zimmer | LB | 6-3 | 230 | Signed by Jacksonville Jaguars

Zimmer will head to Jacksonville for the Jaguars’ rookie minicamp beginning May 3.

In his first season playing middle linebacker, Zimmer was named a First-Team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection and led team with 127 tackles, including 56 solo stops. The Wheeling, Ill., native ranked third in the MVFC with those 127 tackles and added 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles-for-loss.

He finished his Redbird career tied for 13th all-time at Illinois State with 269 total tackles and tallied 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss in 44 games played for the Redbirds.

Spack on Zimmer: “I'm very proud of Mike. He did a great job here when we moved him from outside linebacker to take over duties inside last season. I think NFL teams believe he can play all three spots in a 4-3 system and play inside in a 3-4, but he's very smart and versitile. He could have been our starting punter here too, which tells you he's an all-around athlete. I think he's a great value for the Jaguars and I think he'll enjoy his time in Jacksonville.” Your online source for Illinois State Athletics, tickets, Weisbecker Scholarship Fund gifts, multimedia, Redbird merchandise, photos and more.