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Welcome to the Early Show

Taking the path set by Clarett and Williams, seven players have declared themselves available for the NFL draft. They have little chance of being chosen.

March 10, 2004|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Ronnie McCrae, a defensive back from Pasadena City College, truly believes he has a chance to play in the NFL, even though he played only one season for PCC and had no interceptions for an 0-10 team. He made the trip to Indianapolis last month and, he says, put on a strong performance at the league's scouting combine.

Two problems with his workout: He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and nobody from the NFL had the foggiest idea who he was.

McRae, who sneaked into the combine just long enough to break a sweat on a squat machine, was one of nine players who applied for and received clearance from the NFL for early draft consideration. Six of those are high school players, and the two others -- almost certainly the only ones who will be drafted -- are Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett and USC receiver Mike Williams.

"School wasn't really my thing, so I figured I'd take my chances and see how far I could take it," said McCrae, 21, of Muskegon Heights, Mich.

"When I went to Indianapolis, I wasn't going to be denied," he continued. "I went into the workout room and asked somebody if I could get on one of the machines.... I got on a squat machine that tells you the total power your body's putting out. The owner of the machine told me mine was the best workout he'd ever seen. I was in street clothes. He told me to come back the next day in workout clothes. There were some agents paying attention to it."

In that group of spectators, McCrae said, was Detroit-based agent Peter Huthwaite of Sports Stars International. McCrae said he wound up signing with Huthwaite, who did not return phone messages for this article.

Welcome to the brazen new world of the NFL, where -- thanks to Clarett's favorable decision in federal court -- anyone can declare himself (or herself) eligible for the college draft merely by filling out a simple form. The deadline passed last week and, although there wasn't the flood of applicants some people expected, some curious candidates did surface.

Such as John Belisle of Capac, Mich., a fourth-string high school quarterback who evidently wants to give the NFL a whirl after an unsuccessful audition for "American Idol."

And wide receiver Joe Lee of Tacoma, Wash., who lists his alma mater as Gates High, an alternative school that doesn't even have a football team. And running back Joe Banks from New Directions Academy, a Baltimore school for developmentally disabled children.

Then, there's defensive tackle Earl Fields of Appling County High in Baxley, Ga. He didn't graduate from high school but received a certificate of attendance. He recently came back to have his NFL form signed by Carolyn Bond, one of the school's counselors.

"He's real big," Bond said of Fields, who wasn't on the football team last season. "I don't know what he tips the scales at, but he's big -- in diameter and height. He's full-grown."

Williams and Clarett are the only players on the list with NFL-worthy credentials. Williams is a potential top-five pick, and Clarett is expected to be chosen in the first three rounds. The seven others are anonymous in football circles.

"You can pretty much go around the horn and I don't think anyone has ever heard of any of these guys," said Greg Biggins, director of recruiting content for StudentSports. "None of them had scholarship offers, no one went to a Nike camp.... I have no clue what their reasoning is."

Even so, some NFL scouts did their homework on at least one of the players. Scouts from the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans called PCC Coach Tom Maher to inquire about McCrae, and Scott Fitterer, a Seattle Seahawk scout, planned to swing by Pasadena on a trip to UCLA.

"No matter what, you still have to look under all the rocks," Fitterer said. "You've got to cover everything and really study guys. At some point, though, you throw in the tape and when he's a 5-foot-5 corner running a 5-flat 40, you look elsewhere."

Said Matt Millen, president of the Lions: "You have to check everything. That's the charge I gave my scouts. Who knows where a player comes from? There will be a day when a player comes [directly] out of high school."

This doesn't appear to be that year.

Belisle, the reserve quarterback who tried out for "American Idol," wasn't on the roster at Capac Community High last season but did play for nearby Mount Clemens High a season earlier. Actually, he never took a snap in a game but once sang the national anthem before kickoff.

"He's got confidence in himself, I'll say that," Mount Clemens Coach Lincoln Stocks said. "His singing wasn't bad."

All of a sudden, Belisle is the biggest story in his hometown. Capac High fielded so many calls about him this week, school officials began funneling queries to the superintendent's office. The last time the town made national news was when Army Sgt. Christopher Stone of the Capac area was captured on the Yugoslavia-Macedonia border in 1999.

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