AP Sports Writer
TROY, N.Y. -- At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, RPI’s Mike Hermann isn’t your typical Division III quarterback, not by any stretch.
Sure, he stands out, and his 4.64-second speed in the 40-yard dash has enticed nearly every NFL team to come more than once to take a closer look.
"It’s obviously overwhelming, a small D-III school," Hermann said. "I’d always hoped for the opportunity, but it just happened so fast. They showed up one day and the next thing you know I was running my 40-yard dash for them."
Running. Seems like the big guy has never stopped.
Born in Australia nearly 23 years ago to parents who never married, his dad, Roy, left with him right away and headed back home to the United States.
A year later they got a phone call. Long distance from Down Under with this message: Mike’s mom, 29-year-old Diane Brooking of New Zealand, who never wanted to move, had been killed in a car accident.
That’s it. Hermann and his dad still don’t know what happened, probably never will.
"It was a rough childhood," Hermann said. "There were women always coming in and out of the house. I never really had a mother-type figure until eighth grade."
And he never knew where his dad, a self-employed car restorer, was going to move next: Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Pennsylvania, New York.
"He kept moving for no reason," Mike said. "It was very difficult. I’d get comfortable in a place after a while, and we’d pack up and leave out of the blue. I met a lot of people, I’ve experienced a lot of different things."
"The poor kid got dragged around," said Hermann’s aunt, Estelle Nadel. "He never knew where he was going to be."
Thanks in large part to his dad, a mountain of a man who once played semi-pro football in Australia, sports became an outlet for young Mike. He excelled as a catcher in baseball, but while playing junior varsity in Hilton Head, S.C., the football coaches spotted him.
"I had a good arm," Hermann said. "They asked me if I wanted to play quarterback. I thought I’d give it a shot. At the very beginning I played for the fun of it. I was more of a baseball player, but I grew out of baseball. It was too slow for me. A lot of sitting around and bad on the knees."
Roy Hermann pushed his son to greater heights.
"I learned that in order to be successful at this you actually have to want to hit people," Mike recalled, not knowing he’d soon feel the urge to do just that to his dad, too.
By the time he turned 17, the arguments with his father, who had contracted a debilitating form of dementia, became too frequent and too heated, so Mike divorced him.
"My dad’s illness has unfortunately messed up his brain," Mike said. "We were on the verge of killing each other. It was in my best benefit to get out of the house."
Legally adopted by aunt Estelle and her husband, Steve, Hermann ended up in prep school at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut and became a captain. Despite earning player of the year and All-New England honors, dreams of playing college ball seemed remote at best.
"No one was really taking me serious," Hermann said. "No one wanted me to play quarterback."
RPI did, and its new stadium and facilities and a substantial financial package he "desperately needed" sold him. He’s made the most of the opportunity at a school with an undergraduate enrollment of 5,400.
In his first three seasons, Hermann passed for 4,821 yards and 34 touchdowns, and ran for 1,425 yards and 22 TDs. In eight games this year for RPI (5-3), Hermann has rushed for 469 yards and six TDs with a long of 88 yards and has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,080 yards and 21 TDs with eight interceptions. That’s 2,549 yards of total offense, or 78 percent of RPI’s total of 3,262 as a team.
A stellar game Saturday in the season finale at home against upstate New York rival Union will push his career totals for total offense close to 9,000 yards.
"It’s hard to characterize or put into words," RPI coach Bob Bodor said. "His football ability and his productivity speak to his character and to his commitment. To be that committed is more than admirable. He’s pretty special. He was offensive player of the year last year as a junior and the coaches elected him. To be elected that and not be in the running for the championship, I think tells you what the other coaches felt about Mike."
His teammates voted Mike a game captain every week last year as a junior when the team didn’t have a permanent one and feel an even stronger bond.
"You see everything he’s been through and kind of appreciate the person he’s become," said senior Matt Lauro, who met Hermann at Avon and roomed with him at RPI as a freshman. "For someone like Mike, it’s easy to come and be down on themselves and not succeed. But everybody that he comes in contact with is automatically influenced in a positive manner."
If Hermann has a regret, it’s most likely what’s happened to his 53-year-old dad, who’s confined to a wheelchair. They still speak to each other on a daily basis, but not for long.
"He’s a typical proud parent," Mike said. "He wants to be there for every moment. Unfortunately, he can’t be. My dad and I did do a lot together. He’s raised me since I was a child without a mother. That’s why I’m grateful for what he’s done. It was his illness that pushed us apart.
"What happened with my father, it’s made me a stronger person. I’d love to do everything that I do from this point on in memory and dedication to my father. He’s pushed me in this direction."
A direction that might just land him in the NFL.
"It’s all about overcoming adversity," Bodor said. "It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. At every competitive event, there’s going to be adversity, and when you have a kid that’s really kind of developed a blueprint of how to overcome adversity you embrace that as a coach. It’s a big part of his success.
"He’s a tough kid. He’s got all the measurables. He just needs to be given a chance. My big hope is that people don’t look at Division III and hold that against him. Once he gets that chance, I have no doubt he’s going to be successful."
Whatever happens, Hermann will leave RPI with a degree in business and management and a trail of amazing accomplishment in his wake.
"The thing that I’ve taken away most from my experience is I don’t regret anything that I’ve been through," he said. "I don’t regret anyone that’s been part of my life. I’ve been through a lot of turmoil, a lot of adversity, a lot of ups and downs. But I’ve found a way to persevere."
"People use what I’ve been through as an excuse to take a different path, a different road. People have always told me, ‘I’m so proud of you. I can’t believe you’ve come this far considering what you’ve been through.’ I just tell them it’s been easy to be where I am now because of what I’ve been through. I don’t ask for sympathy. Everything that I do is for a purpose. I’d like to look back one day, hold my head high, and be proud of what I’ve accomplished."