Drew Himmelman remembers his high school freshman year basketball team picture well. He and some friends were about the same height of 6-foot. By the time his sophomore year hit, though, he towered above them at 6-foot-6. Himmelman wasn't done growing yet, hitting 6-foot-9 and is now listed as a 6-foot-10 left tackle for the Illinois State football team.
It’s one of those recruiting stories that make you scratch your head. Himmelman was a terrific basketball player and was offered by Northern Illinois. He was equally impressive on the football field as a towering tight end who finished his senior season with six touchdowns off of 17 catches.
Yet Brock Spack and the Redbirds gave him his only football scholarship offer while Iowa offered him a preferred walk-on spot. Himmelman knew football was what he wanted to play in college, and the Geneseo, Illinois, native found a home in Normal.
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After redshirting in 2016, Himmelman developed into a top offensive lineman in the FCS last year, starting all nine games he played in (missed two games because of a foot injury) and was named a HERO Sports FCS Freshman All-American and a Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer Team selection.
Even though he made it look easy last year, that redshirt season was interesting as he transitioned to the offensive line.
“It was definitely a whirlwind,” Himmelman told HERO Sports. “The run blocking wasn't a huge adjustment because my high school ran the Wing-T, so I pretty much blocked on 95 percent of the plays. But we didn't do a lot of passing. The biggest adjustment was learning how to pass block. And going from high school to college is a huge adjustment when it comes to the playbook. It was definitely a whirlwind those first 15 practices.”
Himmelman transformed his body, going from 270 pounds in 2016 to 300 pounds last year and he now holds a comfortable 315 pounds on his frame. Interestingly enough, the 2016 roster lists him at 6-foot-8 while the 2018 roster has him at 6-foot-10. But Himmelman insists he didn't actually grow two inches in college and he’s been the same height since he stepped foot on campus.
Nonetheless, seeing a guy his size move the way he does is frightening for the opposition. Himmelman said his basketball background helped in maintaining his athleticism.
“The footwork aspect of it has helped. Because of my size, I was a post. So you sink your hips and feet to get position, whether you’re trying to score, rebound, boxing people out. Keeping that low center of gravity and working on moving in all kinds of directions. It’s also important to just be a well-rounded athlete. Playing multiple sports, the better overall athlete you’re going to be.”
Himmelman also played baseball in high school.
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Even after his standout freshman season, Himmelman says he felt he still needed improvement this offseason. He faced big expectations, being named to the MVFC Preseason All-Conference First Team and on our preseason All-American Third Team. Himmelman continues to work on his footwork and hands in the passing game. And he’s trying to keep a low pad level in the running game, which at 6-foot-10, seems easier said than done.
But his improvements are noticeable and the Redbirds are out to an impressive 3-0 start. The eye-opener was last week’s 35-19 win at FBS Colorado State, where Himmelman and the big fellas up front bullied their way to 267 yards rushing.
The Redbirds are currently No. 6 in BennettRank’s computer rankings. After missing the playoffs last season, Illinois State is looking like its regular self to start 2018.
“It’s definitely something we knew we were capable of,” Himmelman said. “Just the fact that we’re getting it into motion of playing how we know we’re able to play. Everyone is excited about being 3-0.”