Workout warriors

It happens every spring. Just as the trees blossom, college football players looking to blossom at the professional level suddenly become workout warriors in anticipation of the NFL Draft.

Some devote countless hours to lowering their 40-yard dash time or raising their bench press. Some hire personal trainers to improve their agility. Some diet to lose weight or bulk up to gain weight.

A story elsewhere on this website notes that former Vol offensive tackle Albert Toeaina recently enlisted a nutritionist who helped him shed 40 pounds (from 360 to 320) in preparation for the draft.

With big-money contracts at stake, it's easy to understand why guys would want to make a favorable impression on pro scouts. Still, you have to wonder: Where was all of this dedication during their college careers?

If Toeaina knew he'd be a better blocker at 320 pounds than at 360, why didn't he lose the weight during the two years he was playing for Tennessee?

It would be grossly unfair to single out Toeaina, of course. Hundreds of guys wait until an NFL signing bonus is on the line before they decide to get in tip-top shape.

Obviously, these players are motivated by money; they don't really push themselves to be their best until a paycheck is involved. Can an NFL coach trust a guy like that? What's to stop him from busting his butt for a few weeks to get in prime condition for the NFL Draft, then relaxing after he signs a lucrative pro contract?

Consider the case of former UT defensive tackles John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth. Henderson played quality football throughout his Vol career. Conversely, Haynesworth did nothing for two years, had a big junior year, then elected to turn pro.

With both Vols available in the 2002 draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars faced a tough decision: Should they bank on Henderson's superior work ethic or gamble on Haynesworth's superior potential?

Ultimately, the Jaguars spent the ninth pick of the '02 draft on Henderson, then watched him develop into an excellent pro. The Tennessee Titans chose Haynesworth six picks later and watched him revert to the underachieving ways that characterized most of his college career.

There's no "sure thing" in the NFL Draft, but I'd prefer a guy who consistently ran a 4.6 in college to a guy who runs a 4.7 for four years, then suddenly lowers his time to 4.5 a month before the draft. I'd prefer a guy who plays his entire college career at 330 pounds to one who plays at 360, then drops to 320 just in time for the Scouting Combines.

To me, waiting until just before the draft to get in peak shape is akin to waiting until the two-minute warning to start playing hard.

A lot of guys have raised their draft stock in recent weeks by lowering their 40 times. They've fattened their signing bonuses by reducing their body fat. They've given new meaning to the phrase "better late than never."

Frankly, I'd rather draft a guy like Tennessee's Parys Haralson, who gave his college team the very best that was in him every day for four years.

When the game's on the line, you can count on a guy like that.


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