Sunday, April 22, 2007

My first year as a draft geek

The NFL Draft has become its own sporting event. In the past, I've watched ESPN's wall to wall coverage for two days with an occasional stopping point on my remote control, but this year will be different. In the previous six NFL drafts, we've had a grand total of two local players drafted (Derrick Hamilton to the 49ers and Robert Geathers, Junior to the Bengals). Now, this weekend promises to be an End Zone celebration. It looks as if six players from the Zone nation and maybe even the first Chanticleer will have their name on an index card in New York City.

Lawrence Timmons - Florida State (Wilson HS - 2003 WPDE Zoneman)
I know that he's going to have a lucrative and great career as an NFL linebacker, but I always thought he would be an elite tight end if he played on that side of the ball instead of defense. The mock drafts of the world have him slotted at Pittsburgh at #15, the Bengals at #18 or the Giants at #20. If he's around at 20, why wouldn't the G-men give him a try. The last time they drafted a linebacker out of Florence it worked out pretty well for them. He's got a bust in Canton now (Harry Carson).

Justin Durant - Hampton (Wilson HS - 2004 WPDE Zoneman Finalist)
Darryl Page has got to be the proudest person in the Pee Dee on April 28th. You can imagine the thrill of coaching a player who gets a player drafted in the NFL -- coach Page gets two guys who will likely get drafted in day one. Hags and I were always baffled that Justin was not recruited by South Carolina and Clemson. We always said that he was major Division I quality. The NFL scouts agree. It looks like he'll be a late 2nd round or 3rd round pick.

Fred Bennett - South Carolina (Manning - 2001 WPDE All-Zone)
Scouts look at character during all the pre-draft interviews and this, in my opinion, is Fred Bennett's biggest strength. He's such a class act off the field and got a lot of experience and insight from former Gamecocks Ko Simpson and Jonathan Joseph who are in the league right now. Fred should go in round three.

Brandon Frye - Virginia Tech (Myrtle Beach - 2001 WPDE All-Zone)
I always get a kick out of seeing the footage of Brandon when he was at our banquet and where he's at now in terms of size. You have to give a lot of credit to Scott Earley for seeing his potential and getting him to Division I at Virginia Tech. He's got pagan strength and I'm guessing he's going to have a very solid NFL career. It's looking like he'll be a round 4 selection.

Anthony Waters - Clemson (Lake View - 2001 WPDE Zoneman Finalist)
He's one of my all-time favorites. Whenever I went to a Clemson game, he made it a point to get fired up for our camera. He had a chance to leave after his junior season for the draft, but came back and tore his ACL in week one of his senior year. He's getting a college degree and has no regrets. He's going to probably be a day two pick, but whatever team picks him is going to get a steal. I'm hoping that his knee gets back to where it was, because if it does, he's going to be a great NFL player.

Syvelle Newton - South Carolina (Marlboro County - 2001 and 2002 WPDE Zoneman)
He's one of the most intriguing guys in the entire draft. His pro days were hampered by a hamstring injury so his stock isn't through the roof right now, but we all know that football is much more than running the 40 yard dash. I have to think that someone is going to take a late round chance on him. I can't wait to see how an NFL team will utilize Syvelle. He's going to be anxious to prove to everyone that he can play at the next level. When Syvelle is motivated, watch out.

Tyler Thigpen - Coastal Carolina
I've said this before in the office and people might have laughed at me six months ago -- if Tyler Thigpen was quarterback at Clemson, the Tigers would have won the Orange Bowl. Here's a guy who has greatly benefitted from three pro days (CCU, Clemson and SC State) to go along with individual workouts. Thig will get a contract as an undrafted free agent. That's a 100 percent guarantee, but thanks to some dazzling private workouts, it's become more and more of a possibility that he'll get drafted in the late rounds. The best case scenario is for Tyler to get an opportunity at an NFL camp and work his way up the depth chart and get some seasoning in NFL Europe.

It's going to be a banner weekend for the Zone nation. Like Mel Kiper and the rest of the draftniks, I'll be hanging on every pick from beginning to end hoping to hear some of our guys have their professional football dreams come true.

Friday, April 13, 2007

My run in with Imus

I remember having the TV on the background and stopping by on a Sunday evening as the Ladies Final Four was on and watching Rutgers put a thumping on LSU. Vivian Stringer was the head coach of the Iowa Lady Hawkeyes when I started my on-air TV career and already had an immense respect for her program. I knew that Rutgers was a very young team and they enjoyed a trip to the championship game losing to Tennessee. Outside of the niche audience, no one really paid attention to Tennessee, Rutgers or anything from the world of college basketball female style. Then Don Imus made the remarks he did on a national radio show. What happened from there certainly transcends sports. Rather than explore the freedom of speech issue or the obvious offensive statement on a racial and female equality level, I truly feel bad for the girls on the team. They should be looking back on an amazing season and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Instead, they led the national news with their press conference responding to comments made by someone they never met. The reason I write about this is because I did have one confrontation with the infamous Mr. Imus. Following my freshman year in college, I was an intern at WFAN radio in New York City. I commuted 90 minutes from New Jersey Monday through Friday and worked as an intern on the 10am to 1pm shift manned by Ed Coleman and Mike Francessa. At the time, Chris "Mad Dog" Russo was an update guy and just starting to become a fixture on New York sports radio. Mike and the Mad Dog is one of the biggest sports radio shows in the nation now. I was 19 years old and thrilled to be working in such a big time environment. The lead in to the show was Imus in the Morning. One of my duties was to bring in carts into the studio for the board operator prior to the show. Normally, I would do this in the minutes before the 10am show went on the air. For some reason, Ed Coleman asked me to bring the carts in early one day. Imus was in his second to last break and I went into the control room. The studio is seperated by glass and I walked in to the control room and stacked the carts where I usually did. I never said a word, but Imus who was in commercial and 20 feet away seperated by glass freaked out asking "What the hell is that geek doing in our studio?" He wouldn't let it go. He was like a tyrant demanding that I leave the area. I was shocked. I have walked this earth for 36 years and there has been only one time in my life that I wanted to physically harm a human being and Don Imus gets that honor. I kept my head down and walked out of the studio. The guys I interned for told me to just laugh it off as they shook their heads. If there is one thing I took out of that day it was that I would never make an intern feel like I did on that day. There was a scene in the Howard Stern Movie Private Parts that showed Stern getting the door slammed in his face by Imus when he first came to WNBC. I always said that was an accurate portrayal. I will not pass judgement on his suspension and the road ahead, but as Don Imus is in the eye of a pretty vicious storm, I wish I could go back in time to the other side of that studio glass and pick my head up and look him in the eye now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Augusta Black List

It is really starting to feel like spring for two reasons: Opening Day and the Masters. I thought I would share a funny, yet heartbreaking story about the famed Augusta National. When I got the sports director job at WPDE in February of 2000, I was excited for so many reasons -- one of them being a chance to cover the Masters with it lying right on the South Carolina border. As I went through my usual ritual of making arrangements and getting media credentials, I discovered a harsh reality. Years before my tenure began at WPDE, the station would regularly cover the Masters. I was told that on one occasion, there was a problem securing a photographer or an extra body to help out, and the station did not cover the event and never picked up their credentials. From that day forward, WPDE Sports has been on Augusta National and their "black list". Every other year I have made the attempt to try and make my plea to get us back in the good graces of Augusta National. After all, I was not here when the infraction took place. Augusta likes their tradition and without fail, I have gotten a polite rejection letter whenever I have requested to get back on the media list. I did not attempt to do it this year, but now with azaleas blooming and my envy of hoping to step foot on the grounds one day, I will make it a point to try and get WPDE back into the Augusta National family. I can promise you this -- if we ever do get back in, we will make sure to cover it year in and year out! One thing about Augusta National, they do things their own way. It is why the Masters is one of the most special sporting events in the entire world (these are the kind of lines I write in my emails/letters, yet I am still locked out of the gates!)