Joe Mays heard about the scouting reports that said he was neither big enough nor fast enough to play middle linebacker in the NFL, especially for someone who attended North Dakota State, a Division I-AA school.

Then again, there must be room on an NFL roster for someone who, in college, picked up a nickname sure to capture the scouts' attention: the De-Cleater.

"That was a little name that the fans gave me for coming out and playing hard," Mays said following yesterday's workout at the Eagles' camp for rookies and selected veterans. "When you're playing hard, you get in some good hits and sometimes it's the best hits that you can ever imagine. So I got the nickname, but I just try to keep living up to it."

It takes more than a catchy nickname to grab the attention of the Eagles, who made Mays a sixth-round pick (No. 200 overall) in last month's draft. Not only did he hit hard, he also hit often, leading the Bison of Fargo, N.D., in tackles with 90 in 11 games.

Mays' size, 5-foot-11 and 245 pounds, may have discouraged some teams along with his reported 40-yard dash time ranging from 4.8 to 4.9 seconds. But his productivity and his intensity may wind up overriding the other details.

"He has good intensity," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "You can tell that he likes the game. He's a take-charge guy. That's what you want as a middle linebacker. He's still learning the system. He's going to make a few mistakes, but he's into his book. He's a very physical linebacker."

As for Mays' size, Johnson said "the thing about it is that he's got size here," pointing to his upper body.

"He's not a real tall guy," the coach said, "but I think he makes up for it in intensity and just knowing where the football is."

Asked how he responds to people who question whether his size is enough for the NFL, Mays said: "Just let me play.

"I've been hearing that for a long time now," he said. "For the most part, it's guys that I'm definitely sure never saw me play in person. But I never let it get to me. Just let me play, watch me play, and then observe from there."

It's been a rather sudden rise for Mays when one considers he didn't start playing football until his junior year at Hyde Park High School on the South side of Chicago. Prior to that, he was a basketball player because "we all wanted to be Michael Jordan."

The short high school career didn't provide many highlights with which to impress larger colleges, so Mays accepted the only scholarship offered him in time for North Dakota State's first season in Division I-AA, in 2004.

His senior season provided two prizes for Mays - the award as defensive player of the year in the Great West Football Conference and his marriage. Mays and his wife have a 3-year-old daughter, Joy, and a second child coming in September, a son whom the family will name Jai.

For Mays, there is nothing like a growing family to provide additional incentive to make it in the pros.

"Most definitely," he said. "I'm here because I want to fulfill a dream. That was No. 1. But the money's good, so I have to make sure I can take care of my family and make money for them. That's the second reason I'm playing."

Certainly, you have to like the chances of a guy they call the De-Cleater.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano
at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com