Wang ready to embrace role as football ambassador to China

As an offensive lineman expected to be drafted in the mid-to-late rounds later this month, Ed Wang's arrival into the NFL seemingly wouldn't be very notable. Yet, Wang could have more people interested in his journey than any other player whose name gets called April 22-24.

Wang is expected to be the first Chinese player ever drafted. The marketing machinations are already in place in China and stateside via the NFL, its office in China -- the league set up shop there three years ago -- and through his representation firm, Octagon, which has an office in Beijing, as well as multiple cities in the United States.

Now Wang needs a team to be a part of the process.

"This is something I really embrace," said Wang, whose first language is English but who speaks fluent Mandarin. "I take it as an honor to be the first one. I am proud of my heritage. I am proud to be Chinese."

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The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Wang, also knows that the novelty with being a pioneer of sorts into the NFL's expanding internationalism on and off the field will be over with the second he puts on pads and has to clear a hole for his running back or protect his quarterback. No heritage, race, draft stature or résumé means anything then. Doing the job that's expected is the only barometer of success.

If Wang doesn't make the roster or struggles if he does, the bulbs will quickly go dim and all he'll have is the few moments of being recognized as "The First." It won't carry much weight being known as something, but not known for something.

"I want to look at it like that, that I don't want to make it just because I'm Chinese," Wang said. "Hopefully, I get with a team and make the roster. At end of the day, you have to make a team and still have to play. When it all comes down to it, it's about playing football."

Wang was an all-ACC player at Virginia Tech, where he converted to tackle from tight end as a sophomore. He is very athletic and has been worked at every position along the offensive line by NFL teams leading up to the draft. He's dealt with stories about football prowess and his heritage for years, but now things could be cranked up to a whole new level.

NFL China, which was established in Beijing to broaden the league's limited appeal through media outlets there, has already done work with Wang and his brother, David, a guard for Virginia Tech's football team. It is trying to introduce the game to a fan base with limited knowledge and interest through television and websites.

Now that it could have a player to front the push, help could be on the way. Furthering the cause, Wang's parents, Nancy and Robert, were members of the Chinese Olympic track team in the 1970s before they moved to Virginia -- not far from Redskins Park -- in the 1980s.

"It's up to us to market and promote the sport and it's players," said Michael Stokes, the Managing Director of NFL China. "The fact that he's an offensive lineman, in some way, could make it more difficult than if he was a quarterback but we're thrilled that he's had such a successful high school and collegiate career. We're hoping for good things at the draft and we're excited to work with him down the road."

Besides China, the NFL has offices in Canada, England, Mexico and Japan as well, hoping to globalize the most popular sport in the United States.

Said Andy Ross, Wang's agent with Octagon: "Our plan is to bring him over to China, at some point. We've spoken to NFL China about him being an ambassador for the sport. I don't want to say he's going to be what Yao Ming was, but he has the potential to do some big things overseas. I don't think it matters what position he plays. One thing when you look at things, the people of China really support their own. For him to have the opportunity to be the first; no one else gets to claim that."

No one involved with Wang figures him to be as much of a cultural phenom as Yao, the center for the Houston Rockets who has helped the NBA become big business in China. Yao grew up in China. Played for the Chinese Olympic and national teams and was a star before coming to America, barely able to speak the language. Wang grew up on foreign soil playing a foreign sport, speaking English.

Wang not only accepts being part of the marketing of himself and the sport, he wants to take it as far as he can. He said he hopes to get to China soon since he hasn't been there in nine years -- before junior high -- and he wants to promote the game in the U.S. as well, regardless of the audience. Wang wants people to buy his football jersey, but he also wants people in China and Chinese-Americans to take up the sport, even if their parents or culture are unfamiliar with football.

His story provides the basis for his mission.

Wang's parents knew little about American football, but they wanted him and his brother to participate in youth sports. Ed and David played football and basketball, and were pretty good at a young age. Their athleticism and success worked for them, but it also prompted their parents to push them -- hard.

"To be really honest with you, I didn't have much of a childhood," Wang said. "They pushed me and my brother very hard growing up. We ran every single day. We didn't have any free time. We'd finish school, work out or go to practice or games and sleep. They always told us that this hard work now would pay off. You have to sacrifice a little bit to achieve stuff in life. We accepted that and went with it.

"We didn't go to the movies and things like that because we never had time. We played basketball year round and were always in sports. I wouldn't have had it any other way. I know I missed a lot of my childhood. It's all worth it now. I'm glad they did things the way they did. My parents are very supportive. They've never missed anything my brother and I did. They've always been there, at everything."

Wang will spend the next few weeks in Blacksburg, Va., where Virginia Tech is located, training and getting ready for the NFL. He will remain there during the draft because his brother has his spring football game for the Hokies and his entire family will be there for what could be a memorable and historic weekend.

After that, so many things could change for Wang.

He hopes so.

"It doesn't matter what team I go do, just as long as somebody wants me," Wang said. "They're going to get my best at all times. Like I said before, when you boil everything down, it all comes down to playing football."

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