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Storm made Weatherspoon stronger
Atlanta Falcons first round draft pick, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, left, addresses the media as Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff looks on during an NFL football news conference Friday in Flowery Branch. - photo by The Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH — Sean Weatherspoon walked up to the podium at the Atlanta Falcons complex on Friday wearing a dark suit with a red tie, matching red pocket square and white Falcons cap.

“Looking good,” said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff as he nodded in approval to his first-round draft pick.

“Feeling good,” Weatherspoon replied with a smile.

It was an upbeat introduction for Weatherspoon in his first full day with the Falcons, and he said his positive spirit was strengthened by surviving a dramatic challenge when Hurricane Rita devastated his hometown of Jasper, Texas in September, 2005.

The small Texas town was without water and electricity for three to four weeks, and Weatherspoon’s high school senior football season was placed on hold for about five weeks.

The storm hit Texas after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans.

Weatherspoon, introduced at the Falcons complex on Friday, says the adversity made him stronger.

“I was being recruited by LSU,” Weatherspoon said. “That was one of the places that I wanted to go, but I lost contact with them. That was pretty devastating for me, and I was pretty nervous, not knowing what would be on the table.”

Weatherspoon’s mother, Elwanda, said her family was displaced by the storm.

“We didn’t really have to rebuild, but we had renovations,” she said. “Every family in Jasper was affected by Hurricane Rita.”

Added Sean Weatherspoon: “It was tough. We were without electricity for about four to five weeks. Everybody had to buy generators. It was tough being displaced, not having my bed and my bathroom, but we made it through.

“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do. I think that definitely made me stronger.”

Jasper High School completed the 2005 season by playing two games a week — one on Tuesday and another on Saturday. Weatherspoon, who played linebacker and receiver in high school, signed with Missouri, where he started each of his 41 games at linebacker and became a second-team All-American as a senior.

Dimitroff said the Falcons have followed Weatherspoon closely for two years.

“At one time there was a rumor about Sean possibly coming out early as an underclassman, so we were very dialed in on him and have been for quite a long time,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve done quite a bit of research.”

Coach Mike Smith said Weatherspoon’s skills are the perfect fit for the challenges linebackers face on run defense and pass defense.

“Our game, the NFL game, is evolving into a spacing game with more three- and four-wide sets, not necessarily with three or four wide receivers in the game, but with athletic tight ends and with running backs,” Smith said. “You’ve got to have athletic type linebackers who can match those kinds of athletes. Sean definitely has those skills.”

Weatherspoon is expected to eventually replace outside linebacker Mike Peterson, who will be 34 this season.

“I am very, very excited about adding Sean to our linebacker corps,” Smith said. “As we watched him in college you could see his tackle production was off the chart, his ability to create plays in the backfield was something that impressed us. They were all traits that reinforced as we went through this process this was a guy we wanted to have on our football team.”

Weatherspoon (6-1, 239) had 413 tackles and 121/2 sacks in his career. He is the first linebacker drafted by Atlanta in the first round since Keith Brooking in 1998.

“I feel like I can come in and work hard,” he said. “I know there’s going to be some bumps and bruises along the way. I know it won’t be easy.”

Weatherspoon isn’t likely to be easily deterred. He knows something about overcoming bumps and bruises.

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