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THE NFL / BILL PLASCHKE : If He Was Awake, Melvin Would Be Proud of Them

October 01, 1994|BILL PLASCHKE

SEATTLE — For most NFL players, college memories spring from storied places such as South Bend and Tuscaloosa, revolving around the storied names of Bear and Bo and Bowden.

For the NFL's best all-around running back this season, Chris Warren of the Seattle Seahawks, flashbacks are different.

The place: A dirt field in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

The name: Melvin Trent.

"He was our college trainer," Warren said. "Well, not really a trainer. Like, a paramedic. Well, not really a paramedic. Like, an intern."

As the man carrying the medical bag for the Ferrum College Panthers, a Division III school with about 1,200 students, Trent was one of the biggest influences on Warren's career.

He was the one who taught Warren to grip the ball in all sorts of pain.

Because before every game, he would accidentally tape Warren's hands too tightly.

"Problem was, he didn't really know how to tape hands, or tape anything," Warren said. "So when he taped mine, my fingers would turn numb and purple."

Warren emphasized that this was only a problem when Trent was not sleeping on the bench.

"Which wasn't often," he said. "Any time anybody got hurt on our team, the first thing we would have to do was wake up Melvin."

With a knack for working as hard as he laughed, Warren survived long enough to be discovered.

Similar qualities can be found in most of the several dozen players who have succeeded in the NFL today, despite their small-college backgrounds.

"Generally, those players are in underdog situations, they might have a little better work ethic," said Tom Donahoe, director of football operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

While watching an obscure speck on an obscure college all-star game film, Donahoe found All-Pro linebacker Greg Lloyd from tiny Ft. Valley State in Georgia.

Warren, who is tied with the San Francisco 49ers' Jerry Rice for the league lead with six touchdowns while ranking sixth in the league in total yards from scrimmage, was discovered in an even odder spot.

Would you believe a rest area?

"It was on Interstate 81 between Roanoke and North Carolina," recalled Mike Allman, the Seahawks' player personnel director. "We went to visit him at Ferrum, but while we were in his coach's office, he calls from the side of the road to say that his car broke down.

"So we told him to stay put, and we drove to pick him up. We didn't have much time, so we cleared out parking spaces at the rest area and threw him a few passes."

Based on that workout, and his 4,583 total yards in two seasons at Ferrum, Warren was selected in the fourth round in 1990.

Since then, running soft but hitting hard with his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame, Warren has opened eyes everywhere.

He even made the Pro Bowl last year, not bad for a player whose collegiate program boasted no playbook and a field with no grass.

"People asked me if I thought about playing in the NFL back then," Warren said, shaking his head to confirm that the thought rarely crossed his mind.

"I mean, all I had to do was look around at where I was," he said. "What were the chances of anybody ever making it in the NFL from there?"

Warren is only one of many small-college stars who beat those odds, some of whom are listed here on the All-Melvin Trent team:

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK--Dave Krieg, Detroit Lions, Milton College, Milton, Wis.

A lifetime member of the Melvin Trent team because his college was so small. It has since gone out of business.

RUNNING BACKS--Warren and Ron Moore, Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburg State, Pittsburg, Kan.

TIGHT END--Eric Green, Steelers, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va.

Most competitive position, featuring Ben Coates of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.; Shannon Sharpe of Savannah State in Georgia, and Pete Metzelaars of Wabash College in Indiana, an all-male institution of 860.

Green is the winner based solely on the image of him sitting next to chancellor Jerry Falwell at a school fund-raiser.

WIDE RECEIVERS--Andre Reed, Buffalo Bills, Kutztown State, Kutztown, Pa.; John Taylor, San Francisco 49ers, Delaware State.

The combined enrollments of those schools is about 12,000. The combined number of touchdown passes caught by these two is 96.

CENTER--John Gesek, Washington Redskins, Cal State Sacramento.

OK, so it's not that small. But he is one of the few centers in the league who is not from some major Midwestern program where linemen spend entire semesters wearing their baseball caps backward and tossing drunks out of downtown bars.

GUARDS--Shawn Bouwens, Detroit Lions, Nebraska Wesleyan, Lincoln, Neb.; Tom Newberry, Rams, Wisconsin La Crosse.

TACKLES--Howard Ballard, Seahawks, Alabama A&M; Erik Williams, Dallas Cowboys, Central State, Wilberforce, Ohio.

DEFENSE

LINEMEN--Donald Evans, New York Jets, Winston-Salem (N.C.) State; Leon Lett, Cowboys, Emporia State, Emporia, Kan.; Pierce Holt, Atlanta Falcons, Angelo State, San Angelo, Tex.

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