Huckeba a Charger target

FAYETTEVILLE -- Former Arkansas defensive end Jeb Huckeba didn't have the luxury of introducing himself to general managers, coaches and scouts from all 32 NFL teams at the scouting combine in Indianapolis two months ago.

The Searcy native, who recorded a team-high 12 1/2 tackles for losses and 6 1/2 sacks in 2004, did not receive an invitation to the prestigious pre-NFL Draft event.

So Huckeba tried to make up for it during a dizzying two weeks, traveling to San Diego, Green Bay, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Indianapolis.

"I'm actually back to normal, but it took me a couple days," Huckeba said. "I was in the airport a lot and hotel rooms a lot. But it was a really good experience."

Huckeba hopes his hustle will lead to an NFL home during this weekend's 2005 NFL Draft, which starts today and runs through Sunday.

Former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones, who is projected as a late first- to second-round pick today, likely will be the only Razorback pulled off the draft board during the first day (Rounds 1 through 3). But Huckeba, running back DeCori Birmingham, defensive tackle Arrion Dixon and receiver Steven Harris hope they'll be selected before the seven-round draft ends Sunday night.

"I would love to see my name go across the screen on draft day," Dixon said.

Huckeba is more confident he'll be drafted after Arkansas' two on-campus workouts in March. The workouts led to the six invitations to travel to team facilities, meet with coaches and front office personnel and undergo physicals.

Huckeba had a 20-minute conversation with San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer. He met with the president of the Seattle Seahawks, Tim Ruskell, who couldn't understand why Huckeba wasn't invited to the combine.

Huckeba, who is projected as a linebacker or defensive end by scouting services, has consistently heard he'll be a second-day pick (Rounds 4 through 7).

"You never know," Huckeba said. "You have to have an open mind about it. If you get drafted late, you can't take it as an insult.

"I mean, (New England quarterback) Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft pick. He sat on his bed and like cried after the draft. Now look where he is."

Birmingham, Harris and Dixon are taking the same approach after the five-month interview process. All three believe they'll be drafted this weekend, but know there is another route to the NFL: Signing post-draft free agent contracts.

"It can be rough," Harris said. "I remember people telling (former Arkansas receiver George Wilson) he'd be a high second-day pick, but he ended up being a free agent.

"It can be a tough road. But after seeing people come through Arkansas, come through other schools and make it, I feel pretty good about my chances, too."

Harris, who visited the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars last month, estimated there have been 10 to 12 interested teams.

Birmingham, who attended the NFL scouting combine, believes he'll get an opportunity in the league because of his versatility.

Dixon hopes his quickness at a coveted position will aid him.

"There's not that many D-tackles (in the draft), but a lot of ends," Dixon said. "Hopefully they'll go early and that will help me out, move me on up a little bit.

"But if I'm not drafted ... the goal from Day 1 was to make somebody's camp (as a free agent) and go from there."

Huckeba said he'll spend the weekend at home in Searcy, but doesn't plan to watch the lengthy draft outside of the first round. Instead, Huckeba said he'll spend the weekend playing golf and enjoying a little free time before beginning his pro career.

"We've been working for four straight months, almost five, getting ready for this weekend," Huckeba said. "It is really exciting because not too many people get this opportunity. I feel real blessed.

"I'm excited to get into a mini-camp and excited to get going with my summer workouts, wherever I'm going to be."

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