4.30 - Character Counts
Just one year earlier, Stovall was considered a bust by many who follow Notre Dame football.
But in less than 12 months of real coaching, Stovall jumped into the top echelon of wide receivers.
Said his father. "...he believed in coach Weis and coach Weis believed in him. If he could have played for coach Weis for three years instead of one, there's no telling where he'd be today. But we're not thinking about that. We're thinking about how grateful we are to be in this position with the draft and even more thrilled that next month Maurice will walk away with his degree."
But there were two other factors that weighed heavily in Stovall's favor on draft day and the first of those is character.
Said one draft expert, "he's a top character guy, a good player. I'm a little concerned he is a one-year guy, but that's really not his fault. They were atrocious on offense two years ago. Last year, he finally caught some balls. He got a lot of exposure at the Senior Bowl, and at the combine he was good. He's going to be a good player."
Gruden talked about character during both of his press conferences Saturday. He said the Bucs use off-the-field character as one of their key evaluation points. "It's always a risk when you draft anybody. Some guys more than others.''Green Bay's Ted Thompson made the point even more succinctly: "The longer I'm in this, the more I'm convinced that character is overriding. And if someone, even if he's talented, if he's not the right fit for our place, then it's not the right fit.''
Stovall, still a youngin' by NFL standards, demonstrated much more than ability, he demonstrated a work ethic and team mentality. What that means to NFL teams is low risk, a point made clear Saturday by the rise of character and the fall of talent with character questions.
The other factor is an NFL endorsement from Coach Weis. Last year Justin Tuck, a likely first round pick this year, left Notre Dame with a year of eligibility and without the endorsement of Weis. He didn't go to until the third round and likely left millions on the table.
By contrast, Anthony Fasano, the sixth rated tight end on the board was surprisingly taken in the second round of the draft, by Weis's old mentor, Bill Parcells.
Said Bob Rang, an analyst for NFLDraftScout.com: “It can’t be understated, his impact,” Rang said. “The fact that Charlie is as respected as he is, that makes (that) so much more. He guarantees them a workout and then it’s up to the player at that point.”
And Weis made it clear that he'll fight for his players. As he said in a recent press conference: "I think one thing that has happened more than anything else this year that is favorable for them, is that they have a rapport with guys from the NFL because of so many friends that I have. Now these guys can call me up, and they know they have been weathered the way pros are weathered. And I’ll just leave it at that. But they know when these guys have been hammered the way pro guys have been hammered, they’re always willing to take a chance on them a little bit earlier because they know they’re not going to have to start from scratch weaning them in to what the pros are all about.”And of course, Notre Dame is already training kids in an NFL offense according to Gruden, "Charlie Weis coming to Notre Dame exposed Maurice, I think, to an offense that much more resembles a pro game." That factor also played a part in Fasano's rise in the draft according to Cowboy chief Jerry Jones, "He's been in the scheme. Fasano knows our terminology," Jones said. "It's what they use at Notre Dame. He did there exactly what we're going to be asking him to do here."
Contrast Fasano with Dominique Byrd. Fasano was actually ranked lower than Byrd in terms of ability, but higher overall because of the non-physical attributes. Meanwhile, Michigan which has consistently recruited the best talent in the nation, failed to have one player drafted on day one (does any team waste more talent than Michigan?)
Character was at a premium in this year's draft and USC is paying the price for Pete Carroll's influence in that arena. It turns out that inviting a gangsta rapper (who's faced murder charges) into your team circle, re-inviting O.J. to practice (who's faced murder charges,) demonstrations of ripping off your shirt in front of recruits (some strange male testosterone ritual) and a mix of "it's all about me" Hollywood imaging is not valued by the NFL.
Wrote Peter King of CNNSI: "I think I was pretty darn wrong about Winston Justice and LenDale White, both of whom I thought were lock first-rounders, even with some of their off-field faux pas. Character counts more than ever, people."
The problem, as identified by Java (a USC guy) on WildWestSports.com is that Carroll is recruiting kids with a Hollywood ethos that isn't valued by society on the whole or by the NFL (recruits report that he travels with pictures of his players posing with Halle Berry to entice them.)
While it may be cool to hang with Halle, she doesn't pay on draft day.
Java recently wrote that character ".. keeps coming up in relation to USC guys. That is very sad. When PC took over, he had a ton of guys with good character who truly were thrilled to play for a winner. Palmer, MacKenzie, even Sultan and Fargas. Rogers, Graf, Torres, Hill, Polamalu. Now USC recruits top talent but I have said for years these guys come in with baggage, to put it nicely. So, this is the first year you really have seen it, but the NFL is concerned aobut guys with top talent who have an entitlement attitude. I think it cost Bush being the first pick (think had htis not come out he'd have been traded for big time prospects and teams were scared off). Think is cost Bing big time, Byrd, White, Justice. Too bad, but Mike Williams had these concerns about THESE PLAYERS and voiced them before the 2004 season. Result? Everyone shouted Mike down, said he was an ingrate."
Understand that criticism was written by a very well connected USC guy, but Notre Dame goes after many of the same recruits, so while the selection process may be apart of the issue, environment, academic support and coaching are also important factors. It appears the USC problem is affecting even very good kids. Mark Sanchez is by all accounts a great student and great kid, but he finds himself in the middle of a scandal. The old adage holds, if you hang out with the wrong crowd, you don't need to be looking for trouble, it finds you. It's one thing to live in a town with troubling influences, it's a quite another still to invite the "gangsta" mentality to become a part of your program. That makes no sense to this pundit.
Hub Arkish of Pro Football Weekly said this could just be the tip of a very big iceberg at USC.
"When Pete took over, some doors were opened that are shut at most programs," he said, and that when recruits visit USC, it's obvious that that the lifestyle of a USC football player is much different from the lifestyle of a football player at most other schools, and recruits are taken in by it. He added that USC has some major problems with institutional control, and that the Bush story will by no means be the last one we will hear and compared the situation to
That is why it's heartening to hear coach Weis say in clear terms that he's only going after kids with character on the recruiting trail and that he refuses to compromise. It was a lesson learned on his way to winning four Super Bowl rings and one that proves you don't have to compromise to win on the field or in the NFL draft.