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Rookie Eagles defender takes rocky road to NFL

On Thursday, while the other rookies trudged to the showers, cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu stood in sweatpants, hands in pockets, inside the Eagles' locker room at the NovaCare Complex.

On Thursday, while the other rookies trudged to the showers, cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu stood in sweatpants, hands in pockets, inside the Eagles' locker room at the NovaCare Complex.

Like all the fresh faces present for the two-day rookie minicamp that ended Thursday, Ikegwuonu, the Eagles' fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Wisconsin, wanted to make a good impression.

Unlike the rest, who filed to the locker room from the practice fields, Ikegwuonu, not a drop of sweat on him, came from the training room.

Ikegwuonu will tell you it hasn't been the smoothest 18 months.

First there was the "situation" that occurred on Nov. 25, 2006, in DeKalb, Ill. Then there was the torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered on Jan. 22, 2008.

Ikegwuonu's stock plummeted. Once considered a solid second-round, possibly late-first-round selection, he didn't even watch the NFL draft. That's how sure he was that teams would pass on him.

He was sleeping when he received the phone call that the Eagles had selected him.

"I'm in a great place, especially with the medical staff here," Ikegwuonu said. "I'm really lucky to be in this situation."

"I know how hard it is for teams to invest, to draft guys that aren't able to produce the following year," he said.

The baggage Ikegwuonu is carrying isn't limited to a bum knee. A year and a half ago, Ikegwuonu and his twin brother, William, were arrested and charged with residential burglary. At the time, William played for the Northern Illinois football team.

According to Stephanie Klein, the assistant state's attorney prosecuting the case, the trial is set for July 14. She said the charges are a Class I felony and, if the men are convicted, carry a mandatory sentence of a minimum of four years and a maximum of 15.

Ikegwuonu said the whole thing was a misunderstanding, although both parties were unable to comment much more specifically.

"I wish I could explain the whole story," Ikegwuonu said, adding that it would take a sit-down session over coffee to hash it out. "Nothing was taken. It's really just a big misunderstanding between friends. My brother's friend was actually the one that initially had contacted the authorities. His efforts to rectify the situation after the fact were pretty quick. He realized what had happened. But once the state's attorney got hold of it, she wouldn't let it go."

Ikegwuonu said deals had been offered and he was confident the situation would be resolved by the start of training camp on July 21. He added that to prove his innocence, he was willing to fight the charges.

Ikegwuonu declared for the draft in January after his junior season at Wisconsin.

He was training for the NFL combine at a facility outside Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when he tore the knee ligament.

"What I think happened, because it happened so fast, was that we were pulling sleds behind us and I came out of my start too fast," Ikegwuonu said. "The sled was really lightweight, and it was connected by such a short cord that when I came out with force, it came right behind me and tripped me."

When Ikegwuonu put his leg out in front of him to brace himself, the knee, at an awkward angle, gave out.

He had surgery to repair the ligament in the second week of March. Since then, he's been in the training room, working on his range of motion, biking, and building strength in his leg muscles.

On Wednesday, he stood on the practice field and watched camp. Afterward, his knee became stiff.

"Ever since then, the trainers said, 'When they're practicing, just stay in the training room,' " Ikegwuonu said, laughing. "They're taking it very slow with me because they really don't think they're going to play me this year."

He may not be able to run and cut like his rookie teammates, but he's been studying film and learning the defensive playbook.

"I've never seen a playbook that big," Ikegwuonu said, holding his fingers apart to show how thick it was, the imaginary space looking as if it could fit a dictionary.

"I never expected it to be that complicated," he said. "But it's really intricate. They expect you to learn fast."

He'll have plenty of downtime to learn.