Instead of going to Washington to play quarterback, Cody Pickett could have followed in the footsteps of his father, Dee, a Pro Rodeo Hall of Famer
They have been timed at 10, 20 and 40 yards. They have done their vertical jumps and short shuttles. They have bench-pressed 225 pounds numerous times.
The numbers are in for the NFL Draft class of 2004. And behind the numbers are the stories that tell the human side of the draft.
Some of the interesting notes on the class of '04:
ELI'S COMING!: He could be the first overall selection in the draft – the first Mississippi Rebel to achieve the honor. Quarterback Eli Manning, the Maxwell and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner, is the final representative of the incredible Manning family of quarterbacks.
He follows father Archie (who he also followed at Ole Miss) and brother Peyton of the Indianapolis Colts into the NFL. Everybody knows of the exploits of only the fifth QB in SEC annals to throw for more than 10,000 yards who also led Mississippi to victory in last season's Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma State. But following are 10 lesser-known items about Eli Manning:
1. Mother Olivia was Homecoming Queen at Ole Miss. 2. Even though he was a freshman redshirt, had 2,000 fans line up for his autograph at "Meet The Rebels Day" in 1999 – far more than any other player. "It was overwhelming," said Mississippi head coach David Cutcliffe. 3. Father Archie says he is more laid-back than Peyton: "Eli isn't quite as intense as Peyton or quite as forceful. He goes about things in a different way."
4. Although Peyton's college numbers were slightly better than his, Eli thinks he outdoes his older brother in one category: "I'm better looking." 5. Was so relaxed before a big Thursday night game in high school, he called his parents to ask them to tape a "Seinfeld" episode for him. 6. Family nicknamed him "Easy" because he was so cool about everything.
7. Before he arrived at Mississippi, banners were hung at the school proclaiming, "Eli's Coming," after the Three Dog Night song. The group was even brought to Oxford to perform at a spring game.
8. The second-floor view of his college apartment in Oxford looks out over the town square. Off a wrought-iron balcony, he can see the landmark white Lafayette County Courthouse, not far from the office where William Faulkner once wrote. 9. He often amazed his father by not knowing the name of the team he faced while playing for New Orleans' Isidore Newman High School. 10. Wore a pillow under his shirt sleeve in the seventh and eighth grades when he caught balls fired by high school QB Peyton when the brothers played in the backyard. "I was his ball boy," says Eli. "He was throwing rockets. I couldn't catch them with my hands. I had to catch them off my arm."
NO PEANUT GALLERY: The most impressive thing about Iowa tackle Robert Gallery?
It could be his size – 6-7, 323 pounds. Or that he would rise before dawn to help his father on the family's 600-acre farm outside of tiny Masonville, Iowa (population 129) before going to school. Or that he has already graduated with a degree in elementary education.
But, really, it must be his hair. In this day of relatively short hairstyles, the Outland Trophy winner has not cut his locks in two-and-a-half years.
"It's just something that I see as my progress through college," says Gallery of his increase in growth, talent, maturity, and hair since first reporting to the Hawkeyes. "I'm a different person than I was four years ago when I was in high school. I was a clean-cut guy in high school. Now I'm not so clean cut."
PERSONAL BARBER: If Miami of Ohio quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have time to get a haircut before he arrives in New York for the draft next week (he is one of seven players to be invited by the league to draft headquarters at Madison Square Garden on Saturday), that's no problem. Ben will just shear those locks himself!
He has cut his own hair ever since he was a little boy when his parents – teaching him the value of a dollar – told him he had to pay for his own haircuts out of his allowance. Ben even saved on the tip!
GOTCHA!: What will Texas players most remember about their All-America teammate, wide receiver Roy Williams?
His pancake obsession? His love of cinnamon rolls? His size-16 furry gorilla slippers? Those idiosyncrasies are memorable, but nothing can top Williams' initiation this past season of the "Name Game." It put every Longhorn on alert in the locker room.
The "Name Game" works this way: yell out a teammate's name, get him to look up, and you get a point and he loses one. Over a season, it can drive guys crazy. "You try to get a guy's attention, but no one's paying attention because they're worried about losing a point," says Texas running back Brett Robin, who did not participate in the competition.
All this from a guy who, until this past season, was not to be heard from. "Roy was real shy and never said anything," says Robin. "I never heard him talk until this year." How times changed in the Longhorn locker room!
EXCELLING ACADEMICALLY: The draft class of '04 includes players who have made the term "student-athlete" ring true.
Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma – captain of the team's defense -- is one.
A finance major with a minor in management, Vilma maintained a 3.5 grade-point average, making dean's list every year. He took a foreign-language elective this year in German in which he is nearly fluent. "Just to brush up," says Vilma.
Last summer, he interned in the client wealth management division of the Lehman Brothers investment house in Miami.
"I want to be able to play football because I love it, not because I depend on it to make a living," says Vilma, whose sister Alice graduated from Miami in three years and is now a strategic planner for educational lender SallieMae. "I'd like to be in the NFL for the next 20 years, but if that doesn't happen, I'll have a backup strategy."
Ten draft-eligible players with high marks:
Player...School…Major DE Dave Ball…UCLA…Graduated with degree in history. T Robert Gallery…Iowa…Graduated with degree in elementary education. QB Robert Kent…Jackson State…Graduated with degree in electronic technology. QB Craig Krenzel…Ohio State…Molecular genetics (3.6 GPA). QB J.P. Losman…Tulane…Classical studies (3.3 GPA). QB Eli Manning…Mississippi…Marketing (3.5 GPA). QB Matt Mauck…LSU…Graduated with degree in kinesiology. LB Dontarrious Thomas…Auburn…Graduated with degree in management information systems. LB Jonathan Vilma…Miami…Finance (3.5 GPA). LB Courtney Watson…Notre Dame…Graduated with degree in management.
HE'D BE PERFECT FOR THE COWBOYS: Ride 'em, cowboy?
That's what Washington quarterback Cody Pickett has done, following in his father's big footsteps. Dad Dee, who has a saddle named after him, played QB at Boise State, but is best known for his rodeo exploits. He won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World All-Around title in 1984 and was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame last August.
"Rodeo was something I grew up with for 17 years," says Cody. "I traveled a lot with my dad when I was younger. It was a fun deal. I enjoyed it. I still do."
He advanced to the national high school finals in team roping in 1997 and 1998. "I was a heeler," says Cody. "I roped the feet of the calf. We finished fifth in the nation one year, but we should have done better."
SONGSTERS: If they end up on the same team, they could form quite a trio.
West Virginia running back Quincy Wilson, Minnesota tight end Ben Utecht and Kentucky tackle Antonio Hall have one thing in common – music.
Wilson is the son of former NFL linebacker Otis Wilson, who started for the champion Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX and was part of the team's "Super Bowl Shuffle" video that wowed the town. Quincy has memorized the lyrics to the rap song, and can do a great imitation of his dad performing in the Shuffle.
Utecht is, literally, a choir boy. He began singing in his church choir in Hastings, Minnesota in the sixth grade. Since then, he has been part of groups that have sung for both President Bushes, and has performed the national anthem at numerous Minneapolis-area sporting events. He also plays the guitar.
Hall is a music education major. His baritone voice is part of the Lexington Singers, a community choral group that gives public musical performances. He has worked with Kentucky's voice professor and director of the UK Opera Theatre Everett McCorvey – the only football player to do so in the educator's 12 years at the school. "It is unusual to see a big football player have those interests," says McCorvey. "He has the voice. After football, if he decides he wants to devote himself to music full-time, he certainly has the potential to do that."
A TEDDY BEAR?!: Maybe the worst thing you can say about an offensive lineman is that he is a "Teddy bear." And that's exactly what Katie Ammons said about Virginia Tech center Jake Grove.
But what was Jake to do? Katie is his fiancée. And when asked by Trev Alberts on ESPN if Jake's reputation as a rough player is true, Katie replied, "Oh, he's a big Teddy bear."
Says Grove, "I said, 'C'mon, Katie, help me out here, I've got an image to maintain.'"
THE ENTREPRENEURING SAFETY: He started in high school, and it keeps growing.
Arizona State safety Jason Shivers first began selling tomato plants to neighbors as a youngster in Phoenix. Then in high school, he started Shivers Landscaping, which now has 10 employees. He has plans to enlarge his interests even while playing in the NFL. Next on the agenda: a car wash and a minimart. "We've got a lot of deals going on right now," says Shivers.
His major? What else? Business study and landscape architecture.
IGOR THE DUCK: He has only played football for six years, but Oregon defensive end-tackle Igor Olshansky has a chance to go high in the draft, has a great story behind him, and has already earned a memorable nickname.
Born in Dnepropetrovsk in the Ukraine, Igor and his family emigrated to San Francisco when he was seven years old. He liked football but never played it until a high school coach looked at his size – now 6-5, 309 – and asked why he wasn't playing the sport. Six years later, he was voted the Ducks' top defensive lineman this season. He has played every position on the DL in the past two years.
"To be honest, I like to be moved around," says Olshansky, who speaks fluent Russian. "I like to play a series at end and a couple of series inside. I like to experience different people and different looks."
That experience has earned him a memorable nickname – the "Pain from the Ukraine."
DRAFTNIKS – HE WON'T BE "MR. IRRELEVANT," the final pick in the draft who receives the "Lowsman Trophy" and is honored with a week of festivities in Newport Beach, California by former NFLer Paul Salata and his merry troop. But Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman certainly seems to have the perfect name for the trophy. Except, it's pronounced "LAHS-man"……SNOW GO: What did Notre Dame linebacker Courtney Watson, a Sarasota native, do the day he witnessed his first snowfall? Skipped classes. That was probably OK. Courtney went on to earn his degree in management……ATHLETIC FAMILY: Florida State linebacker Michael Boulware, brother of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Peter, can talk sports with his fiancée Jessica Van Der Linden. She is an All-American softball player for the Seminoles……A BIG BABY-SITTER: LSU guard Stephen Peterman, all 6-4, 325 pounds of him, is a loving father to his eight-month-old son Stephen, Jr. The sight of his wife Colleen holding their son at the bottom of the hill as the team made their gameday walk to Tiger Stadium often brought pop to tears. The waterworks gushed again when Colleen brought junior to the team's Senior Day celebration. "I think having four older sisters really softened him up," says sis Melanie. "It's like he had five mothers." All of Peterman's sisters are at least 11 years older than him…… DEMORRIO ALWAYS DOING MORE: Nebraska linebacker Demorrio Williams, from Beckville, Texas (population 752) was not afraid to work as a teenager. Before he went off to college, he pumped gas (at the lone service station in town), mowed lawns, painted fences, rode tractors, laid pipe and hauled scrap. Plus rode horses.