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NU receiver Jeremy Ebert laughs best as he starts adventure with Patriots

Wide receiver Jeremy Ebert participates drills during Patriots’ rookie minicamp May. | Stephan Savoia~AP

Wide receiver Jeremy Ebert participates in drills during the Patriots’ rookie minicamp in May. | Stephan Savoia~AP

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Updated: July 6, 2012 10:34AM

Jeremy Ebert used to be a quarterback in high school, and all he heard was, ‘‘You’re too short to play in the Big Ten. You’re not good enough to be a quarterback in that league.’’

So he switched to wide receiver and went to Northwestern, where he played as a true freshman and four years later became the Wildcats’ first receiver since D’Wayne Bates in 1998 to have a 1,000-yard season. Ebert had 75 receptions for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011.

But he heard the whispers again his senior year — that he isn’t fast enough, isn’t good enough to play in the NFL, much less get drafted.

And again, Ebert has proved everyone wrong.

The 6-0 slot receiver out of Hilliard, Ohio was drafted by the New England Patriots in the seventh round and later agreed to a four-year deal worth $2.148 million.

‘‘You’re speechless, and it was a surreal feeling,’’ Ebert said. ‘‘I didn’t really expect it. I was just getting ready for free agency.’’

There wasn’t even any talk of him getting drafted until he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 and 4.4 seconds at the Wildcats’ pro timing day in March. Those 40 times and his athletic catches impressed many NFL scouts, who said, ‘‘Where has this guy been?’’

‘‘I wasn’t hearing much before that,’’ Ebert said. ‘‘Then I talked to a dozen or so teams. Our offense showed my speed where we ran controlled routes and had shorter passes.’’

Ebert’s agent, Mike McCarthy, said he started getting nibbles about Ebert during the season. The buildup was slow but quickly gained steam after that timing day.

McCarthy said many scouts were surprised Ebert wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in March. Superback/tight end Drake Dunsmore was the only Wildcat who got an invitation.

‘‘Once you get past 100 picks [in the draft], it’s up for grabs,’’ McCarthy said. ‘‘And in the middle of the fourth round, there is no rhyme or reason, so once my phone started ringing, I knew he would be drafted.’’

Ebert probably is going to find himself in the same position he has been in before: having to prove he can play at the next level. The Patriots already have an abundance of slot receivers: Wes Welker, Chad Ochocinco, former Illinois standout Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and Northern Illinois and Riverside-Brookfield High School product Britt Davis.

But Patriots coach Bill Belichick is high on having Ebert aboard.

‘‘Ebert’s a guy we got onto late,’’ Belichick said the day Ebert was drafted. ‘‘He is an impressive guy, and he’s versatile and can compete at that position for us. He’s one of the younger players we have at that position.’’

Ebert spent the draft’s last day, April 28, at his uncle’s home in Ohio. He was sitting in his uncle’s home office with another friend checking the Internet and discussing his options when he received the call from the Patriots.

That day sent his life into a minor whirlwind, but in a good way. Unlike some of the Wildcats’ other seniors who were hoping to get drafted — quarterback Dan Persa, cornerback Jordan Mabin, offensive lineman Al Netter, safety Brian Peters and Dunsmore — Ebert still has classes to finish and a degree to earn. He graduates this month with a degree in learning and organizational change with an emphasis on business, and he’s still interning with the Northbrook-based TCBOOST training facility. Ebert plans to be at Patriots ­minicamp on June 12-14.

‘‘It hasn’t been easy, and I knew what I was getting myself into,’’ he said. ‘‘[The critics] just add fuel to the fire, and it motivates me more. If people didn’t want me because I was too short, then fine.’’

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