Posts Tagged ‘college football

25
May
12

Why Michael Floyd Will Succeed

After returning from the NFL Draft in New York City, I ran across a piece on Yahoo! Sports about Rashaan Salaam, the 1994 Heisman Trophy winner at Colorado who was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears 17 years ago. Four years later his football career was finished. The piece takes its quotes mostly from a recent Chicago Tribune story on Salaam. To use the popular sports vernacular, he was a “bust.” According to the story, he partied a lot and used marijuana, which led to his downfall. “I had no discipline. I had all the talent in the world,” he said. How did the Chicago Bears miss so badly in their evaluation? How can anyone think they can treat their body like that and excel at their profession?

One guy you wouldn’t have to worry about is Michael Floyd, the Notre Dame grad from St. Paul, Minn., whom the Phoenix Cardinals selected with the 13th pick in the first round. Yes, he had brushes with the law during his college career over drinking, but I know the guy so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe he’s gotten his wake up call and won’t wind up like Salaam. Move past that and you realize this is a guy who works at his craft. Moreover, he loves playing ball and doesn’t mind the training it takes to be an elite athlete. Blessed with natural talent, he’s worked hard to become a first round draft choice. Work ethic isn’t something you can easily measure though. It takes doing homework.

The NFL Combine, which happens in the dead of winter at the end of February, has become it’s own TV event. It’s kind of a cross between an old ABC-TV “Superstars competiton” and a job fair for prospective on-the-field NFL employees. And it serves its purpose: It’s a way management and scouts can get a last look at players before the draft and get last-minute information on players. The physical tests — 40 yard dash time, bench press test, etc. — serve as a way for NFL GMs to collect as much tangible information on the physical qualifications of their prospective employees. And, in a round about way, to justify their picks. Peter Lynch, the money manager who ran the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund  in the ’80s, explained why so many on Wall Street invest in the big familiar names (IBM, GM, etc.) as opposed to the smaller, more unknown growth companies. The reasoning is simple. If IBM goes down, people will ask, “What’s wrong with IBM?” If you invest in a small regional auto parts retailer like Pep Boys and it goes down, people will wonder, “What’s wrong with you?!” Relating it to the draft, the Kansas City Chiefs took Dontari Poe with the 11th pick even though he didn’t have a great deal of production on the field during his career at Memphis. The guy proved to be an athletic freak at the combine, so if he doesn’t pan out the Chiefs can at least offer the excuse that the guy had all the physical tools but he couldn’t pick up the pro game. Ironically, that’s what you’re looking for — players!

Unfortunately, having great “measureables” doesn’t mean a guy can play let alone if they’d make an ideal team mate. What exactly does a work out in shorts and a t-shirt at the NFL Combine prove? Shouldn’t a concrete evaluation of every prospect’s talents already be in the hand by this time? Personal interviews are part of the combine, too, and there’s a benefit to a face-to-face conversation. However, in my experience if you want to find out about a player’s work ethic, one group of people you want to talk to are the equipment managers. They deal with the athletes every day on a personal level and will give you an unbiased evaluation. Unlike a coach, they have no ego invested in a player. But that’s where the effort on the part of the scout comes into play. You can’t just show up at the games and expect to get that sort of information. It takes more work than that. I seriously wonder how many scouts put it in that sort of effort.

Great talents like Michael Floyd in football are like great talents in other walks of life — they make things look easy. But it’s not. James Kaplan, the author of a recently-published biography on Frank Sinatra, “Frank: The Voice,” told Fox News he was struck by Sinatra’s work ethic. While Sinatra knew he was a gifted singer, he didn’t just rely on his talent to make it. “One of the big surprises working on this book for me was to learn how incredibly hard he worked on his singing, on the lyrics, on his breath control, on every part of his craft,” Kaplan said. “He made it look easy. It was not easy!”

Take from the Chairman of the Board. If you want to make it in New York, New York, or the NFL or anywhere else, work ethic can’t be replaced.

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02
Apr
12

Meet the Next Lawrence Taylor

I hated the way ESPN overhyped USC running back Reggie Bush when he was in college. They actually did a segment comparing him to Chicago Bears great — and NFL Hall of Famer — Gale Sayers. Comparing a college kid to an NFL legend was ridiculous. College football and the pros are not the same game. Bush was taken second overall by the New Orleans Saints in 2006, and I think Bush is more famous for dating Kim Kardashian than for what he has done on the field.

But I’m about to jump on a bandwagon of my own making. You must see Daeshon Hall, a junior in high school from Lancaster, Texas, play football. This kid has some special ability. He’ll committed to Texas already, so you’ll see him in Longhorns burnt orange in 2013.

One of my free lance jobs is editing video for national Preps. I spent February watching a lot of high school football from the state of Texas. Young Mr. Hall just stood out. In Lancaster they play him as a defensive end, although I think he’ll project as an outside linebacker in college — and in the NFL. At 6-foot-6, 225 lbs. he has the build of a basketball player, and, in fact, he does play hoops. However, he has the body type of a small forward, unlike Julius Peppers who played basketball at North Carolina and played defensive end in college and the pros. Peppers has the build of a power forward; he’s bigger in the lower body. But Hall has some unbelievable physical ability — and he’s much stronger than you would think.

If Young Mr. Hall is a diligent student and makes wise choices off the field, the sky’s the limit for this fellow. My edited video of Hall runs just under three minutes, so check it out.

07
Jul
10

Miami Twice?

Miami Hurricanes Head Coach Randy Shannon and Seantrel Henderson (Photo by Vince Muzik)

Much to my surprise, USC released Seantrel Henderson from his letter of intent today. I thought they’d fight harder, but I think the decision will serve bother parties well. Based on what I know, I’m not sure Miami wasn’t Seantrel’s first choice to begin with. And here’s why:

Between 1:00 and 1:30 p.m. CST on National Signing Day, Feb. 3, a PIPOL (person in a position of leadership) at Cretin-Derham Hall High School (CDH) got a text from Trel. He was in New York waiting to announce his college selection on Tom Lemming’s TV show. The message? “Miami.” The PIPOL at CDH texted him back for confirmation: Miami? “Yes, Miami,” Trel said. That person went on to show a bunch of other employees at CDH Trel’s message. (I can name a bunch of them who saw it.) I don’t think it was a coincidence the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran that information on their web site around 2:30 p.m. Except it turned out to be wrong.

At 4:30 p.m. CST when Seantrel made his announcement, he picked USC. Either Seantrel had a change of heart or he was just being a prankster, just to tug at the chain of his superior. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the answer to that one. However, I do know something.

The visit the Miami Hurricanes got from Seantrel that last weekend in January, the NFL Pro Bowl Weekend as it turned out to be, was the visit Oklahoma was supposed to get. Heading into December, the schools on Trel’s list were “the Big 5 plus one.” The Big 5 were USC, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida and Oklahoma. The “plus one” was Minnesota, the local school. Two other schools were on the periphery, Iowa and Miami. Oklahoma had tried to arrange a time for Trel to visit, but things just didn’t work out. Keep in mind, Seantrel’s high school football team played until the last Friday in November when they won the state championship. After that, basketball season started and the Christmas holiday wasn’t too far past that. The available weekends for visits withered away. When Oklahoma faded, Miami became appealing and got him to visit. From everything I heard, he had a great time meeting the brotherhood of Miami Hurricanes. It does pay to persevere, doesn’t it?

19
May
10

Joe Mauer… college football quarterback?

Joe and Me at the Vikings-Giants Monday night game in 2001. And he drove! (Photo by Carlos Gonzales)

If you live in Minnesota, you are prone to fanciful thinking these days. After all, who could have ever envisioned the Minnesota Vikings chief rival, Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers, ever leaving the Packers in the first place and then winding up with the Vikings — and coming within an overtime field goal from leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl appearance? Never in a million years! Or so we thought.

So, I read with some amusement Michael Rand’s blog piece from a couple weeks ago wondering if it might be possible — just possible! — Joe Mauer could ever wind up playing college football after he calls it a baseball career in a feat similar to what Heisman winner and fellow Cretin-Derham Hall alum Chris Weinke did. This time, Mauer, whose current deal ends in 2018, would stay home — hear that, Seantrel! — and play quarterback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the ripe old age of 35 years old. Rand called the University of Minnesota compliance office and got the low down from Andrea Smith, the assistant director of compliance (with a specialty in eligibility). Her verdict: “There wouldn’t be anything preventing someone like that from competing.”

Well, that got me to thinking… how on earth could Joe ever be a college student in the first place? He’s arguably the most famous person in Minnesota. He couldn’t walk across campus without being hounded for autographs or pictures or propositions of some sort or another. Could he be a full-time online student and play ball as well?

Seeking to get a few answers, I called my “anonymous source” contact within the Minnesota Golden Gophers football program. “The first thing I’d want to know is can he be a good quarterback. Brett Favre honed his craft playing almost 20 years in the NFL. Joe hasn’t payed football in a while. And how is he physically after playing a demanding position like catcher for so many years? Could he hold up at QB? Those are the first things I’d want to know,” anonymous told me.

As far as school goes, the university could make special arrangements for Joe to be on campus if he wanted to get his degree — and play football. “If Joe wanted to play, we’d welcome him,” anonymous said. “He’s such a gifted athlete we wouldn’t turn him down. Would you?”

08
May
10

Another Bust Bites the Dust: Raiders Fire Russell

Photo: Associated Press

This just kills me. Sports Illustrated online columnist on Don Banks, a former Minnesota Vikings beat writer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote a post-mortem piece today on the Oakland Raiders releasing, i.e., firing, their starting quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick from 2007, JaMarcus Russell. The apparent cause was a lack of motivation and work ethic by Young Mr. Russell. I’ve heard this before: A player liked the trappings being a pro athlete gave him more than he loved the challenge of excelling at the game which game him the lifestyle in the first place. Now he’s done.

The Raiders committed $39.6(m) for Russell’s first contract, but according to Banks’ piece, the money might as well have been spent in Vegas. As one of his sources said:

“[The Raiders] knew the question about his self-motivation going into the 2007 draft. They gambled, and they lost. I just think he doesn’t really want to be an NFL player. He was a great college football player, but he didn’t want it in the NFL.”

There’s an accompanying photo gallery featuring some superb photos (none are mine, however) of Russell from his college days at LSU and as a pro along with comments from 12 football experts giving their prognosis on his skills and his future as an NFL QB.  Only one of the experts wondered about his work ethic. One. “It (his pre-draft work out) just blew me away. If I had the first, second, third, fourth, fifth pick in that draft, I would be tearing apart his personal life trying to figure out whether or not I could trust this kid with $10-million …,” said NFL Networks analyst Mike Maycock.

Apparently, the Raiders didn’t do enough homework. Now here’s my point: If you were spending that kind of money on a rookie, wouldn’t you want to be sold on his work ethic and leadership abilities? I would. It goes without saying that you can have the most talent in the world, but if you have little work ethic or are a high maintenance person (needing a lot of attention to get you going), you won’t amount to much. One of my mentors as a young guy was Ron Woodey, general manager of the St. Paul Vulcans and a scout for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Mr. Woodey always wanted to know whether a player was an “overachiever.” Whether for the Vulcans or the Flyers, a player’s work ethic was a question he wanted to have answered sufficiently. Years later, that has stuck with me.

Good luck, JaMarcus Russell. I hope you saved your money.

24
Apr
10

Tyson Alualu: Yeah, we remember him!

Photo by Vince Muzik

As I was pulling into my parking spot at the Minnesota Vikings draft Party at Jimmy’s in Vadnais Heights Thursday night, I listened to the incredulous tone of the guys on the radio as the Jacksonville Jags made their first round selection in NFL Draft — Tyson Alualu, defensive tackle, from the University of California Golden Bears!

Say what?

Young Mr. Alualu, the 10th overall selection, wasn’t scheduled to go until later in the draft, perhaps as late as the fifth round according to some. Maybe he was a reach. Time will tell. However, if you watched the Golden Bears play the Gophers last September here at TCF Bank Staduim, Alualu stood out. He was very “active” as they like to say in the business. At half-time, my friend Matt Sherman, himself a former quarterback at Iowa (1994-97), said, “That one defensive tackle they’ve got is really good.” Were Matt and I the only ones who took note?

“Has anyone ever in the history been this much of a reach?” one of the guys on the radio inquired. Yes, and the name should be very familiar to football fans. William “The Refrigerator” Perry was selected out of Clemson by the Chicago Bears in 1985. “The Frig” was thought to be more of a fifth rounder due to weigh concerns. Those who remember the great ’85 Chicago Bears team know Perry etched a place in NFL history as the blocking back for Walter Payton in goal line situations who also scored two TDs himself as a rookie, one in the Super Bowl. He played 10 NFL seasons.

The NFL Draft is fun because you get to see where your favorite college players will continue their careers. Beyond that, it gets ridiculous to think you can forecast the future. Rick Reilly of ESPN put it well: “It’s a drama with no ending.” It’s just a start; the conclusion comes years later. The day after is way too early to talk winners and losers.  That’s why the late Toronto Maple Leafs chief scout Pierre Dorion told me back in 1990 during a conversation we had in his Marriott Hotel room, “You never criticize some one else’s player decisions because you never know when you’ll be the one picking a dog — and the one subject to the criticism that goes with.”

05
Apr
10

ESPN’s 30 for 30: “The U”

ESPN must have a thing for running this particular documentary on holiday nights. The first time I watched “The U” by Billy Corben was back on Christmas night, then I caught it again last night (Easter).

This happens to be my favorite documentary so far in the “30 for 30” series,  a documentary series of 30 films commemorating ESPN’s thirtieth anniversary. It has some really good insights into how the University of Miami, a small school located in Coral Gables, Fla., with no history, no tradition and no facilities, became a national football power quickly, a “microwave dynasty” as former Hurricanes player Melvin Bratton put it. Between 1983-2001, the Hurriances won five national titles, four in a nine-year stretch (1983-1991) with three different head coaches (Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson).

After learning about college football recruiting from my time spent at Cretin-Derham Hall High School and watching Seantrel Henderson go through the process — and he saw at all! — a few things stood out about how Miami built their program.

When Howard Schnellenberger stood at the podium in 1979, he said it was his plan to win a national championship at the University of Miami within five years. I’m sure lots of people thought he was smoking something else besides tobacco in that pipe that became his trademark. In short, he was really a genius. Give some due credit to his wife, Beverly. According to the doc, she convinced him to give up his gig as the offensive line coach of the Miami Dolphins and take the job at the school. Schnellenberger knew that football is a way of life in South Florida. High school games routinely outdrew University of Miami games.There are a lot of kids who play, and a lot of good athletes.  Most of them are black. He decided to win “the state of Miami.” Some of that “state” is pretty tough. Even today there are parts of the city you wouldn’t want to get stuck in when the sun went down.  In the late ’70s inner city Miami had it’s share of problems, lots of crime related to drug trafficking. That didn’t stop Schnellenberger from going into “the hood” to recruit the best players he could find. Schnellenberger went there; he didn’t just send his assistants. That’s one key in the recruiting game: If the head coach shows up to recruit a kid, that means that school is INTERESTED. In other words, they are making a priority to get that player. As one player said in the doc, “They (Schnellenberger and his staff) went to places where others wouldn’t go.” And I’m sure word got around: The guys at Miami were sincere. They got to know all those players better than any other college team could because they were local and they used it to their advantage.

Coach Randy Shannon - Photo by Vince Muzik

I had a chance to meet current Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon, a former linebacker at “The U,” when he came through Minneapolis-St. Paul to recruit Seantrel. The list of great players that wore that definitive “U” logo on the Miami Hurricanes helmets is endless. Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testeverde, Michael Irvin, Steve Walsh, Warren Sapp, Eddie Brown, Alonso Highsmith, Ed Reed, Benny Blades — and on and on. They played with an attitude, and some of them in the film haven’t lost it even as they’ve hit middle age. Naturally, I wondered what the reaction was to it. Coach Shannon told me he received a lot of positive feedback from this film, even though he wasn’t in it.

If that’s so, here’s one parting thought: For Miami to get back on top Coach Shannon needs to use the amazing story told in “The U”  of the Miami Hurricanes emergence as a power to his advantage. As it stands now, Miami’s web site doesn’t even scratch the surface of the testimonies of those Hurricane alumni. In fact, their web site is really whitebread! As I learned from him, there’s a brotherhood of past Hurricanes. In the NFL off season, those guys come to Miami because of the loyalty to the program. In terms of digital marketing, they need to remind recruits of that. The Florida Gators have taken over college ball in that state. Miami’s brand is as definitive as their white helmets and orange jerseys. They even have music to go with it. Don’t lose that edge because… it’s a ‘Canes thing!