Football, Sports

Former players prepare for draft amid NFL uncertainty

Graig Cooper (left) and Michael Irvin (right) share a moment on the sideline during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 16. Carissa Harris//The Miami Hurricane

It’s a feeling many of you are experiencing right now. Prospective bosses are pouring over your resume, picking apart your GPA, searching for any way to differentiate you from the batch of potential employees vying for the same spot. But for some people out there looking for employment, their resumes are not on paper – they’re on film and on stop watches.

For football players trying to go pro, the NFL draft is just one week away. That’s when they will find out which team has decided to take a chance on them, mercifully putting an end to the months of anticipation and feelings of helplessness.

Orlando Franklin, Graig Cooper and Damien Berry are just three players from last year’s team expected to be drafted. They are joined by fellow teammates Allen Bailey and Brandon Harris, players who some experts project to go in the first round. For these former Canes, the past four months have been speculation on top of anticipation; what lies ahead is completely unknown.

“I talked to [Jason] Fox, and he always assured me that I’m gonna be just fine, so I’ve been listening to him,” Franklin said. “You get a little anxious while waiting to know where you’re gonna end up, but everything’s going to work out so it’s not a big deal.”

Berry and Cooper, both running backs, have spent their time working out, resting and waiting for their day to come – just like everybody else.

“Being ready is all you can do,” Berry said. “Controlling yourself, getting ready for that day to come.”

Learning from Experience

Luckily for this year’s batch of NFL hopefuls, the University of Miami has deep roots in the league. For players who attended a program which recently had at least one player drafted in the first round for 14 straight years, the model for early professional success has been laid out time and time again.

At last Saturday’s spring game at Lockhart stadium over 300 former Canes stood shoulder-to-shoulder, observing the guys who have taken their places in college, and very well could be doing the same in the pros. Before there was Ray Ray Armstrong there was Antrel Rolle, Ed Reed and Bennie Blades. Sean Spence may be the name now, but players like Jon Beason and Ray Lewis set the standard long before his arrival in the Gables.

Beason, a first-round pick in 2007 by the Carolina Panthers, remembers the weeks before the draft fondly. In the days leading up to the draft, if he wasn’t working out or studying film, he was courting prospective teams to see what type of player they wanted to draft.

“[Before the draft] is the last time you get that kind of praise,” Beason said. “Everybody wants to meet you, everybody wants to talk to you- it’s kind of like being recruited by colleges again.

“But as soon as you sign, everything changes. The process is very emotional because it’s the realization of something you’ve been dreaming about since you were a little kid.”

Bryant McKinnie, the seventh overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2002, spoke with fellow tackle Orlando Franklin to discuss some of the things he should expect.

“It’s really based on technique once you get to the NFL,” McKinnie said. “Everyone’s strong and big, so it’s the little things that can make you great.”

Looming Uncertainty

As if being left to wonder where they’ll be headed for the summer isn’t enough pressure, this draft class has the added uncertainty of a lockout and looming labor stoppage that could lead to a lost season. During a lockout, teams and coaches are unable to make any sort of contact with their players, which in this case are players that desperately need to get acclimated to the NFL culture.

The finances of the game – which sides take in how much money – will be drastically changed from a year ago. How many games they’ll play, what their pensions will look like after they’re done playing, and a myriad of other issues are being negotiated before they ever get a chance to hold up a jersey alongside the commissioner.

“It sucks,” Franklin said. “Going in with that my rookie year is tough, but I’m confident that between the owners and the players they’ll get a deal done.”

The draft prospects are not the only people uncertain about their futures. The lockout has put veterans in the same place as their younger counterparts, left to ponder what their league is going to look like whenever they get back.

Antrel Rolle, one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL, is unsure, even “anxious.”

McKinnie, who is halfway through his own roughly $50 million contract, is more assured of what the future will hold, yet still acknowledges the anxiety it can cause with young players.

“It’ll get worked out eventually and there’s nothing you really can do about it,” he said.

But on April 28, the long road of preparation and anticipation will finally end, leading to the next challenge- creating staying power in a league where players are usually replaceable. It doesn’t matter what round they are drafted, if at all. It doesn’t matter what team they play for next season, if there is a “next season” at all. The past four months, the past four years, even, have all been preparation for what lies ahead.

Putting themselves in a position to compete in one of the toughest job markets. Putting themselves in position to change their lives forever. Or simply, in the words of Damien Berry:

“Putting myself in a position to make my body make money for me.”

Austen Gregerson may be contacted at agregerson@themiamihurricane.com

April 20, 2011

Reporters

Austen Gregerson

Staff Columnist


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