Packers Roster Countdown: Gurley's Path

In Part 6 of our 1-to-90 series on the Packers' training camp roster, we focus on Tori Gurley. Do you think Gurley will be fazed by all of the competition at wide receiver? No chance. Gurley's road to the NFL was filled with one detour after another. He's ready for the challenge that awaits.

As we've done in past years, we're counting down the Green Bay Packers' roster, from No. 90 ("Longest of Long Shots", Curenski Gilleylen) to No. 1 (Aaron Rodgers).

These rankings are not simply based on skill. Players were ranked on their importance to the team. Skill, a player's position, the depth of his position group, the odds he contributes, salary and draft history all play a part in how a player is ranked. More than the ranking itself, hopefully you will learn a little something about each of the 90 players in the process.

No. 56: Big talent

It won't be the most important battle of training camp, but all eyes will be on wide receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel as they battle to make the roster.

You can't coach height, and that's what makes Gurley (6-foot-4, 232 pounds) such an intriguing prospect.

"The sky's the limit for him," receivers coach Edgar Bennett said.

Gurley was a two-sport star at Rock Hill (S.C.) High School. When he played AAU basketball, his coaches were the legendary David Thompson and former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, and one of his teammates was current NBA standout Stephon Curry. Gurley accepted a scholarship to play football at North Carolina with the door open to play basketball there, too.

It was a circuitous route to athletic stardom, though. Gurley graduated from Rock Hill in 2006 but was ruled academically ineligible, so he planned on attending Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. With a few months until the start of classes and with his diabetic grandmother requiring surgery, Gurley moved to his grandparents' home in Alabama. Rather than scoring touchdowns and dunking basketballs in Chapel Hill, N.C., he was working in the flooring and paint departments at a Home Depot in Birmingham, Ala.

Gurley got the itch to play football when he scalped a ticket to watch a Alabama-Birmingham football game in fall 2006. Having returned home the following spring, fate intervened that summer. Gurley dropped off a brother at a North Carolina basketball camp and wound up playing in a pickup game with the likes of Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard to demonstrate skills to the campers. Gurley lit it up. In attendance was the basketball coach at New Hampton Prep School in New Hampshire, who offered Gurley a scholarship. Gurley told him that he wanted to play football; the coach said the school had a football team, too.

The next day, Gurley was in New Hampshire. A month later, on Mother's Day 2007, tragedy struck. His father, Norris — who played basketball with Dell Curry at Virginia Tech — died in a car accident when another driver drove through a red light.

"My dad and my grandmother motivate me a lot," he said. "They both passed away, but I know they still live with me, live within me, and I just work hard and treat every day like it's my last."

Gurley got back on the recruiting radars in both sports at New Hampton. Football, however, would be his ticket. Sidney Rice grew up just down the road and was a two-sport star at Gaffney High. If it worked for Rice, Gurley figured, it would work for him, too.

There would be one more detour. Gurley's SAT score was deemed too high by the NCAA. In other words, Gurley was accused of cheating. He took the SAT again and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, Gurley was cleared to enroll and join the football team, but it was too late for the 2008 season, so he redshirted.

Gurley caught 31 passes as a freshman and 44 passes — with no drops — as a sophomore. Going against the advice of coach Steve Spurrier, the then-23-year-old Gurley entered the draft with two years of eligibility remaining. By now, you know the rest of the story. Gurley went undrafted and signed with Green Bay, had an excellent preseason but didn't make the roster and was signed to the practice squad. Late in the season, Gurley decided to stay on the practice squad rather than accept Minnesota's offer to join its 53-man roster.

At the time, Gurley's decision made sense. The Vikings' season would end in three weeks while the Packers seemed destined to make a deep playoff run. That meant more time on the practice field to hone his craft. It didn't hurt that the Packers gave Gurley a raise to the minimum NFL salary of $375,000 rather than the practice squad rate of about $5,700 per week. Plus, with uncertainty about Donald Driver's future, there was the possibility of an opening on the receiver corps for 2012.

Driver, of course, accepted a renegotiated contract to return to Green Bay for one more season. Rather than being disappointed, Gurley called Driver a "great mentor" who's always willing to lend his insight.

Besides, what's a little competition?

"Exactly. I've never shied away from it," Gurley said. "I made my bed, I've got to lay in it. I'd rather go down swinging than not swing at all. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."

Gurley has taken this offseason seriously. He played receiver in college at 233 pounds but got down to 215 for the Scouting Combine so he could run fast enough (4.50 in the 40) to be seen as a wide receiver rather than an H-back. This offseason, Gurley has gotten back up to 232 without losing any of the speed.

It's dangerous to make assumptions on how the Packers will construct their final roster and they've never kept six receivers during coach Mike McCarthy's tenure, but it seems a pretty good bet that they'll take six wideouts into the regular season. Barring a trade, that would leave Gurley battling Borel to be that sixth receiver.

"Opening day, my goal is to be playing," he said. "Last year, I took it as a learning experience, but I'm very hungry and I'm excited about being out there and playing football somewhere."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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