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April 30, 2008

NFTC to the 2008 NFL Draft

The old footage adage "in order to be the best, you have to compete against the best," definitely holds true for the thirteen NIKE Football Training Camp alums that were selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL this past weekend in New York. For these NFTC alums, the hard work has paid off and they will fulfill their lifelong dreams of playing football at the highest level.

For these thirteen, and many other NFTC alums picked in the later rounds, the hard work didn't begin once they enrolled in college. For many taking the extra step towards greatness began at a Student Sports-produced NIKE Football Training Camp. Just working out with the team during spring drills or resting on the laurels of what was accomplished for the team in the fall wasn't enough. The desire to test, train and compete drove these distinguished players to play up to their vast potential.

The road to the NFL wasn't a fairy tale, however, as hard work (or the lack of it) is what separated these thirteen players from many of their NFTC contemporaries. For others, it was building up strength and size so that their bodies equaled their football skills. For some of the other late bloomers, it was emerging from the shadows of more heralded prep teammates or finding the correct position on the football field. For those rare players, such as USC's Keith Rivers and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, stardom always loomed as long as they continued to develop their skills, stayed healthy and maintained discipline off the field.

Read below to take a look back at the unique journey for each of the thirteen NIKE Campers that were taken in the first round of 2008 NFL Draft:

4. Darren McFadden (Arkansas) RB 6-2, 210 (Oakland Raiders)
High School: Oak Grove (North Little Rock, Ark.) 6-0.5, 198
NIKE Football Training Camp: '04 Georgia Tech
NFTC Vitals: 4.38 40, 14 BP, 32.4 VJ, 4.78 Shuttle, 71.51 SPARQ Rating
Student Sports Lowdown: Four years ago, the Georgia Tech NFTC was loaded with running backs and McFadden was considered one of the top three in attendance. Maurice Wells from Sandalwood in Jacksonville, Florida was considered the top back, but McFadden showed everyone in attendance that he had the blazing speed to be a top-flight college back. Once he added the strength, he became only the third SEC back ever to rush for three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. The others? Try all-time great Herschel Walker of Georgia and LSU's Kevin Faulk, currently of the New England Patriots.

6. Vernon Gholston (Ohio State) DE 6-4, 258 (New York Jets)
High School: Cass Tech (Detroit, Mich.) 6-3, 238
NIKE Football Training Camp: '03 Michigan
NFTC Vitals: 4.45 40, 31 BP, 31.6 VJ
Student Sports Lowdown: If there is one common trait amongst this year's first round NFTC alums, it's their overall athleticism. College coaches love an athlete they can mold into football players and that's exactly what Gholston is. He wasn't considered one of the top three defensive line prospects at the Ann Arbor NFTC in 2003, but he had offers from a ton of Big Ten schools because of his raw ability. Funny, but that raw ability is probably the reason he was drafted this high in the first place as some scouts feel he has the most upside of any player in this draft.

8. Derrick Harvey (Florida) DE 6-5, 252 (Jacksonville Jaguars)
High School: Eleanor Roosevelt (Greenbelt, Md.) 6-4, 222
NIKE Football Training Camp: '03 Penn State
NFTC Vitals: 4.81 40, 15 BP, 32.4 VJ, 4.57 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown: Even though Harvey had offers from all over the country, he was somewhat overshadowed by his own prep teammate. WR Derrick Williams was a year behind Harvey, but he was considered one of the nation's very best prospects in the Class of 2005 and was the top underclass performer at the 2003 PSU that he and Harvey attended along with such notables as Ted Ginn Jr. and Chad Henne. Harvey wasn't terribly swift as a prep and although he is a great athlete, some scouts feel his closing speed was the major question mark heading into this year's draft.

9. Keith Rivers (USC) LB 6-3, 235 (Cincinnati Bengals)
High School: Lake Mary (Lake Mary, Fla.) 6-3, 220
NIKE Football Training Camp: '03 Miami
NFTC Vitals: 4.56 40, 21 BP, 34.0 VJ, 4.18 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown: On a partly cloudy day in Coral Gables, Rivers lit up the Miami NFTC and was named camp MVP after dominating the testing protocols and the position drills. There was another linebacker nearly as talented as Rivers that day as Carol City's Willie Williams would have been the MVP if not for Rivers' show-stopping performance. Williams, however, was never able to make the correct decisions off the field. Rivers, who grew up for a time in Southern California, matriculated to USC and developed into one of the most complete linebackers in the country. Outside the University of Miami's secondary, is there any other school that has produced talent at one position that compares to what the Men of Troy have recently produced at linebacker?

11. Leodis McKelvin (Troy) CB 5-11, 190 (Buffalo Bills)
High School: Ware County (Waycross, Ga.) 5-10.5, 165
NIKE Football Training Camp: '03 Florida
NFTC Vitals: 4.63 40, 20 BP, 28.7 VJ, 4.32 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown: At the NFTC in Gainesville five years ago, there was a talented group of defensive backs including camp MVP Tony Carter out of Jacksonville. McKelvin was a little-known gridiron prospect from the Peach State who wasn't very big or very fast at the time. Although he had six interceptions as a junior, Troy was the only Div. I-A school to offer him. McKelvin is a perfect example of a player who continued to get stronger and faster after high school as he reportedly clocked a 4.38 40 at NFL combine. If he improves his tackling skills, McKelvin could have a long career in the league.

13. Jonathan Stewart (Oregon) RB 5-11, 235 (Carolina Panthers)
High School: Timberline (Lacey, Wash.) 5-10, 224
NIKE Football Training Camp: '04 Oregon
NFTC Vitals: 4.52 40, 29 BP, 36.9 VJ, 4.34 Shuttle, 97.54 SPARQ Rating
Student Sports Lowdown: 350 players from 28 states descended on Eugene for the last NFTC of the 2003 tour, but one player clearly was head-and-shoulders the best prospect in attendance. Stewart was obviously that player and was the first player ever named NFTC MVP two years in a row. His testing numbers were off the charts and he may have been even more impressive during the position drills. He was not just a testing freak, either, as he was named a first team EA SPORTS All-American along with fellow Emerald State back James Hasty Jr. later that fall. Among a talented group of backs at Oregon, Stewart emerged as the best with his unique ability of power to run between the tackles and speed to score from distance.

17. Gosder Cherilus (Boston College) OT 6-7, 315 (Detroit Lions)
High School: Somerville (Somerville, Mass.) 6-6.5, 257
NIKE Football Training Camp: '02 Penn State
NFTC Vitals: 5.00 40, 11 BP, 22.8 VJ, 4.63 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown: Cherilus was one of the top players in Massachusetts his senior season, but he was overshadowed by lineman from the Keystone State at the PSU NFTC. Cherilus had a nice frame, but he lacked strength and mass as a prep. After mulling over offers from Temple and Iowa, he developed into a solid tackle at Boston College and scouts noticed him while helping to protect QB Matt Ryan, the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft. Cherilus got stronger, filled out and developed into a solid run-blocker as well.

20. Aqib Talib (Kansas) CB 6-1, 202 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
High School: Berkner (Richardson, Texas) 6-0.5, 175
NIKE Football Training Camp: '03 Texas A & M
NFTC Vitals: 4.59 40, 36.3 VJ, 4.29 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown:Talib's 4.59 40 in the pre SPARQ Digital Timing days at College Station was only adequate, not eye-opening like it would be now. At 175 pounds, many big-time schools probably felt he lacked the top-end speed to be a top-flight corner although he was considered the best corner from his district in Texas. The Jayhawks were the only team from a BCS Conference to offer and despite a few off the field incidents, Talib made the most of his opportunity. He showed he does have the size, speed and big-play ability to make an impact at the highest level. Scouts also like his ability to stop the run, something he really couldn't display in a camp setting.

22. Felix Jones (Arkansas) RB 6-0, 200 (Dallas Cowboys)
High School: B.T. Washington (Tulsa, Okla.) 5-10, 190
NIKE Football Training Camp: '03 Texas A & M
NFTC Vitals: 4.65 40, 9 BP, 40.0 VJ, 4.34 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown: It's ironic Jones was overshadowed at Arkansas by Darren McFadden because he was somewhat in the shadow of B.T. Washington teammate Adrian Bradley on his high school team and at the College Station NFTC. Bradley was bigger (5-10, 203) stronger (21 BP) and a tad faster (4.57) as a prep player and considered one of the best three linebackers at the camp. Jones was no slouch, recording the camp's best vertical jump, and he continued to develop his speed and power in Fayetteville. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones coveted McFadden, but he got the closest thing to him in Jones.

26. Duane Brown (Virginia Tech) OT 6-4, 315 (Houston Texans)
High School: Hermitage (Richmond, Va.) 6-4.5, 232
NIKE Football Training Camp: '02 North Carolina
NFTC Vitals: 5.12 40, 25.1 VJ, 4.47 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown: Brown is a perfect example of a player that is adequate at one position but a much better prospect after growing into another position. He was a slowish tight end on the prep level, but eventually gained over 70 plus pounds since attending the Chapel Hill NFTC and transformed into an athletic offensive lineman with quick feet. He's still susceptible to strong bull-rushers, but his value as a developing left tackle cannot be underestimated.

27. Antoine Cason (Arizona) CB 6-0, 190 (San Diego Chargers)
High School: Los Alamitos (Los Alamitos, Calif.) 5-11.5, 165
NIKE Football Training Camp: '03 Stanford
NFTC Vitals: 32.5 VJ
Student Sports Lowdown: Antoine was not nearly as highly-regarded as a prep player as his father, former Carson High and Oregon standout Wendell Cason, but he's could end up having a longer NFL career than his father. Scanning the complete list of draftees this season, Cason and fifth round pick Orlando Scandrick (Boise State) immediately jump out. They both played football for Southern California power Los Al, but they stand out because both were overshadowed in high school. Scandrick was a skinny defensive back who played second fiddle to former Boise State teammate Jeremy Childs, Orange County's all-time leading receiver who also played DB. Cason roamed in the shadows of Randy Estes, who some felt was California's best safety prospect in a generation before being kicked out of school before his senior season ended. Cason, meanwhile, went on to win the Jim Thorpe Award as college football's best defensive back in 2007. The Scandrick-Childs-Cason-Estes tale goes to show how important it is to make the correct decisions off the field and continue to develop on it after high school.

27. Lawrence Jackson (USC) DE 6-5, 268 (Seattle Seahawks)
High School: Inglewood (Inglewood, Calif.) 6-3.5, 241
NIKE Football Training Camp: '02 USC
NFTC Vitals: 4.93 40, 26 BP, 27.8 VJ, 4.66 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown: Jackson has been a stalwart on the gridiron since day one, as he was a key member of a Sentinels' team that advanced to the Southern Section X finals as a sophomore in 2000. He recorded 24 sacks that season and ended his prep career with 57, No. 4 on the all-time California list. At the Los Angeles NIKE Camp, Jackson did nothing to hurt his reputation as one of the finest pass rushers in the country. He was one of the top three lineman in attendance and started as a redshirt freshman for the Trojans.

30. Dustin Keller (Purdue) TE 6-3, 242 (New York Jets)
High School: Jefferson (Lafayette, Ind.) 6-2, 190
NIKE Football Training Camp: '02 Alabama
NFTC Vitals: 4.78 40, 12 BP, 32.0 VJ, 4.47 Shuttle
Student Sports Lowdown: Keller was a productive prep receiver, hauling in 178 catches for over 3,000 yards in his final two seasons. At the NFTC in Tuscaloosa, however, Keller was a tad slow to stand out among the top receivers and even if he were two ticks faster, he still would have taken a back seat to camp MVP Ernie Sims. The linebacker was considered the nation's top recruit and the camp also featured last year's No. 1 NFL Draft pick, JaMarcus Russell. Keller is another one of those players who put on weight after high school, but some scouts consider him a tweener as a pro since he doesn't have the frame to become a dominant NFL blocker.

Possible first round picks in the 2009 NFL Draft that attended a past NIKE Football Training Camp or Elite 11: Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio State) CB, LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh) RB, Alex Boone (Ohio State) OT, Matthew Stafford (Georgia) QB, Rey Maualuga (USC) LB, Taylor Mays (USC) FS, Tim Tebow (Florida) QB, Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) RB.

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