First, it's the hair.
More often than not, Casey DeAndrade's hair is the talking point, on and off the football field. But it doesn't take long for his golden locks to become an afterthought after seeing what the former New Hampshire defensive back can do on the football field.
"Everybody kids him about the beard and the long hair," head coach Sean McDonnell said before last season, his 18th. "But he is a terrific athlete and a really instinctive football player."
Pre-conceived notions of DeAndrade's skill based on his fur suits him well. In fact, it's a perfect microcosm for his career.
He is accustomed to exceeding expectations. Though the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder was offered only one FCS scholarship out of high school, it was the only offer he needed. He jumped on it and made the two-hour trip from East Bridgewater, Mass., to what he calls a "special place."
"Not many places have the family aspect that Coach Mac brings every day," DeAndrade told HERO Sports as he prepares for April's NFL Draft. "All the kids on the team are still my best friends and we’ll have that relationship forever."
He was a jack of all trades for the Wildcats, appearing in 53 games over four seasons at corner, safety, nickel and kick and punt returner. His 285 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, nine interceptions, six forced fumbles and 1,373 return yards helped New Hampshire win 37 games and appear in the FCS playoffs all four years.
Photo: New Hampshire Athletics
The appreciative and humble DeAndrade is hoping his production, versatility and passion are enough to interest an NFL team, something former New Hampshire defensive backs Corey Graham and Jerry Azumah both did.
"It would be incredible," he said of getting an NFL shot like that pair. "Corey has had a phenomenal career. Jerry Azumah had a great career. In just be an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as these guys. But It’s surprising; I feel like more people from New Hampshire should be in the NFL. "
With Graham still patrolling the free-agent waters, there are currently zero New Hampshire alums in the NFL. If the 10-year veteran doesn't sign, it could be the program's first season without an alum in the NFL since 1991. Casey DeAndrade is not only hoping to keep that streak alive but could also be their first drafted player since Graham in 2007.
As DeAndrade continues preparing for the draft, we caught up with him to discuss his college career, FCS players in the NFL and if he'll go clean cut before the draft.
Are you planning a position switch?
I’m mostly [focusing] on safety, but I can play safety, nickel and corner. So I’ll still focus on all three and see where that takes me.
Are you going clean cut and shaven for the draft?
I don’t know. I’m not sure yet. Depending on what people tell me to do. Maybe just keep riding it as long as I can.
Did you think about the NFL when you came to New Hampshire?
No, not really. I was from a really small high school and going to a small college. It was just an incredible feeling to go to a D1 school, so I was more focused on that. And then eventually there was a chance I could play somewhere after college.
Last year, Coach McDonnell called you “the best leader by example that we could have within the program" and said you do "a lot of things the right way.” How does it feel to receive that level of praise from a 30-year coaching veteran?
The experience that he has, how long he’s been in the game and the success he’s had, there’s a reason New Hampshire has been in the playoffs 13 years in a row. That all stems from Coach McDonnell.
It’s amazing the work he puts in and how much he demands from us and the coaching staff. The fact that he mentions me in high praise is humbling to say the least. I’m very appreciative of what he’s done for me.
What on- and off-the-field habits do you have that lead Coach McDonnell to say those things?
It really stems from him and our other coaches, even my coaches in high school. It’s building the man first before the athlete, and it’s building the stuff off the field first. In my opinion, if you’re good off the field and good in the classroom, you’ll have a better chance of being successful on the field.
My high school coach has been in the game for — I don’t want him hearing me say he’s old — but he’s been around the block. I’ve been blessed with a lot of great leaders.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about FCS teams or players?
I think so a little bit. But then you look around and see the guys in the NFL who are successful. You have players like Joe Flacco and David Johnson, and Cooper Kupp in this class.
I think it’s going to take a little more time to see more FCS guys but once people start taking notice, I don’t think there’s much difference in the individual players.
Who is an NFL player at your position that you most enjoy watching or try to emulate your game after?
I enjoy watching Devin McCourty play. He came from Rutgers, another northeast school, and played corner but now is at safety.
It’s always a pleasure watching him play. He actually came down to New Hampshire and helped us coach a camp last offseason. It was cool to meet him and hear stories about the Patriots and his path.
Is there anything in specific you’ve been working on before the draft?
I didn’t play much safety so it’ll be a challenge switching over to playing strictly safety or strictly nickel. Just continuing to learn things in the playbook. Other than that, getting my 40-time down, getting it all down. All the little stuff to show NFL teams.
Do you check out projections and mock drafts?
My buddies have mentioned it. I try to stay away from it and work as hard as I can. Hopefully one day I get a chance to show what I can do.
Any plans for after football?
I want to be a GA somewhere and get into college football coaching and see where it takes me. I’ve always loved coaching and being around the game. Eventually down the line, I hope one day to get into a college system and see where that takes me.