Mike Liedtke recalls his first training camp at Illinois State University in fall 2011, when Redbirds coaches started urging him to make a position switch.
Liedtke was a 240-pound running back and defensive end at Woodstock. He was recruited by Western Michigan as a defensive end, but in Normal he was receiving the hard sell about becoming an offensive lineman.
“They said if I switched they thought I could be playing on Sundays (in the NFL),” Liedtke said. “I actually told them no three times. They finally persuaded me to switch, and it has paid off in the long run.”
Liedtke has earned NFL checks for most of the previous three years, but they will be bigger, and sweeter, this season. For the first time, Liedtke, an offensive lineman with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, starts an NFL season on a 53-man roster. He will be a backup, capable of playing all five positions.
“It’s huge for me. It’s what I’ve been trying to accomplish now for three seasons,” Liedtke said. “The NFL’s a crazy business. It just took me a little longer than I would have hoped to do, but I’m happy I was finally able to accomplish and continue moving forward.”
It was a big weekend for McHenry County-area players as Crystal Lake South graduate Dennis Gardeck, a linebacker, made it with Arizona, and McHenry graduate Robert Tonyan, a tight end, stuck with Green Bay.
Tonyan and Liedtke both have trained with Chris Leathers, the owner of Your World Fitness in Spring Grove. Leathers also trained former Houston Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, a Johnsburg graduate who was forced to retire after suffering three concussions last season.
Liedtke worked out with Leathers, Tonyan and Fiedorowicz for a few days last summer.
Liedtke graduated from Woodstock in 2010 after playing for the Blue Streaks’ Class 5A playoff semifinal team from 2009, their last team to reach the postseason. He finished a semester early and headed to Kalamazoo, Michigan. He left Western Michigan after a year and transferred to Illinois State.
Miami signed Liedtke as an undrafted free agent. He also spent time with Kansas City and the New York Jets before landing in Tampa last year, where he was on the Buccaneers’ practice squad and was activated for the final six games.
The Bucs’ third preseason game presented a great opportunity for Liedtke when left tackle Donovan Smith was sidelined with a slight knee injury. Liedtke (6-foot-3, 305 pounds) took on Detroit defensive end Ziggy Ansah in that game and held his own.
“It was exciting. I was happy the situation happened because it was kind of my chance to go out there against one of the top D-ends in the league,” Liedtke said. ”It showed me where I was as far as competition level. It was exciting to play a real game against a guy like that.”
Liedtke played guard for two seasons at ISU, then switched to left tackle as a senior. That flexibility also has served him well.
“It’s a good thing for me,” he said. “I”m a swing guy; I back up all five positions, which is kind of rare. Usually guys are either guards or tackles, or guards or centers. If I get a chance, I can go out there and play at a couple positions, it will really help me in the long run.”
Liedtke was thrilled when he heard Tonyan’s news Saturday.
“I was paying close attention,” Liedtke said. “I was really excited for Rob when he made it. It didn’t really surprise me with the type of athlete he is and the size he has. He has a good frame for tight end.”