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Michels Taken Early, Abdul-Jabbar Late

Locals: USC tackle picked by Green Bay in first round, UCLA tailback goes to Dolphins in third.

April 21, 1996|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Michels discovered Saturday that waiting to play left tackle at USC can turn into a very profitable career move, while UCLA's Karim Abdul-Jabbar found out that turning pro early does not guarantee an early draft selection.

That was the story for two local college players at the 61st NFL draft, which began as expected with USC's Keyshawn Johnson and UCLA's Jonathan Ogden going in the first four picks and then became anything but predictable for many local players who hoped to be drafted in the first three rounds of this year's draft.

After being a backup to All-American Tony Boselli for nearly two seasons, Michels was rewarded by being a surprise first-round selection by Green Bay when the Packers made him the 27th selection overall.

"I learned a lot from Boselli and learned what it took to be a great college player," said Michels, who is expected to back up former Trojan Ken Ruettgers with the Packers. "Now, I get the opportunity to work with Ken Ruettgers, to learn what it takes to be a great pro player. I think it's going to be the best situation for me,"

USC Coach John Robinson said that Michels worked hard to be a first-round selection after being a reserve linebacker behind Willie McGinest and then Boselli, who both were first-round picks.

"We're really happy for him because he really represents the underdog," Robinson said of Michels, a 6-foot-7, fifth-year senior. "He had to fight all the way since he redshirted his first season as a freshman. He took full advantage of everything he had and it paid off for him."

Michels, who began his senior season as a question mark on the Trojan line, was a first-team All-Pacific 10 Conference selection who made the most of his only season as a starter. He was the fifth offensive tackle chosen overall.

"I knew I had the potential to be a good player, it just took me several years to figure out where I belonged," he said. "And I set high goals for myself this year. I didn't want to just have 'a fine season.' "

Whereas Michels was a surprise first round pick, Abdul-Jabbar had to wait until the third round, where he was selected by Miami as the 80th selection overall and the seventh running back picked.

Despite being projected by many draft experts as a late first- or early second-round choice when he decided to skip his senior season, Abdul-Jabbar was happy to be drafted by the Dolphins and their new coach, Jimmy Johnson.

"The thing is that I didn't leave for the money and I didn't stay for the money," said Abdul-Jabbar, who set a UCLA single-season rushing record this past season with over 1,500 yards. "I had heard that I would go in the second or the third round in the days before the draft, so I'm happy with my decision to come out early even though I know that if I had stayed, I probably would have been drafted higher."

When Abdul-Jabbar, who played with Johnson at Dorsey High, returned from the NFL combine in February, he figured he would be drafted by either San Francisco or Miami. He didn't know it would be in the third round.

"I sat around and watched the [first round] and then decided to take a nap," said Abdul-Jabbar, who spent Saturday in Salt Lake City with his brothers. "The next thing I knew, I woke up and Miami was on the phone."

In the second round, USC linebacker Israel Ifeanyi became the 49ers' first pick of the draft in attempt to revive their pass rush.

Ifeanyi, who took up organized football only in the last four years and is a native of Nigeria, is a 6-3, 246-pound pass-rush specialist who Robinson says will excel with the 49ers.

"He is a player with a special style of ability," Johnson said. "And he is with a team that will take advantage of those special skills."

San Francisco, which hasn't had a dominating pass rusher since trading Charles Haley to Dallas in 1992, hopes Ifeanyi will step in and contribute as a rookie.

"We've got somebody with a great work ethic and an awful lot of skill," San Francisco Coach George Seifert said. "He's extremely quick off the ball. I feel like we've got somebody who can help us in the area of the pass rush, which is so very important to us."

Ifeanyi, who sat out four games last season while serving suspensions for accepting favors from a sports agent and accepting about $3,700 from members of his tribe in Nigeria, had 27 tackles and five sacks in eight games last season.

"I know that I haven't really utilized all my abilities. I've only scratched the surface," Ifeanyi said. "Hopefully, with the help of the coaching staff, I'll be able to contribute to the team and do whatever they want me to do because I'm willing to learn."

Draft Notes

USC's Johnny McWilliams was rated among the top three tight ends in the draft, but he wasn't selected until the third round, by Arizona with the 64th pick overall. "The thing about tight ends is that they are like quarterbacks, where only one can really play at a time," Robinson said. "With a position like that, anything can happen in a draft." . . . UCLA center Mike Flanagan was picked in the third round by Green Bay, while Bruin linebacker Donnie Edwards was not selected.

Times staff writer George Dohrmann contributed to this story.

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