Steelers leaving no stone unturned

When running back Antoine Bagwell transferred from Nebraska University to NCAA Division II California University of Pennsylvania, he didn't give up on his dream to some day play in the NFL.

And now, with the NFL draft just days away, Bagwell, who rushed for 41 touchdowns in just two seasons at California, finds himself on the verge of fulfilling that dream.

The American Football Coaches Association named the senior running back to the Division II All-America first-team, making Bagwell just the second Vulcan ever to be named to the squad.

Long-time NFL player Perry Kemp, a Fort Cherry High School graduate, was the first in 1983.

Bagwell failed to qualify academically at Nebraska coming out of high school in East Lansing, Mich., and had to go to a junior college to work on his grades. Then, he committed to playing for the Cornhuskers again, only to see the man who wanted him, head coach Frank Solich, fired before Bagwell could enroll. Solich's replacement, Bill Callahan, chose not to honor Bagwell's scholarship, leaving Bagwell without a home.

That opened the door for the 5-11, 190-pound Bagwell to wind up at California University, which has produced former pro players in wide receiver Perry Kemp and tight end Terry O'Shea in the past few decades.

In his two-year career at Cal, Bagwell rushed for 3,353 yards in 20 games and gained over 100 yards 18 times. Six times he rushed for over 200 yards in a game. He scored 45 touchdowns - including a school-record 25 in 2005 - and finished with 3,956 all-purpose yards. He ranks second in Cal history in touchdowns, rushing yards and all-purpose yards.

Now, NFL teams have taken notice of the speedster. We caught up with him this week to talk about his draft prospects:

What are you hearing about where you'll go in the draft?

I really haven't heard that much yet. I'll probably start to get a better idea sometime in the middle of next week.

Who did you talk to at your personal workout?

I had my personal workout March 18 at Duquesne. I worked out for a few teams and talked to some others.

How'd you do in the 40?

I ran a 4.38 in the 40. I wanted to get in the 4.2s, but I messed up on my starts.

A 4.38 is still plenty fast enough to play in the NFL.

Yeah, I guess so.

What are teams telling you that they like about you?

I'm athletic and have been durable. I didn't get hurt in college. I've also caught the ball out of the backfield a lot. Some teams I've talked to think I can be a third-down back and others have looked at me as a possible cornerback.

Do you have a preference?

No. I just want to play in the NFL. That's always been a dream of mine. A couple of teams have said I'd be a good third-down back and a couple of others want to try me as a kick returner. I just have to concentrate all of my efforts to whatever they want from me.

Even when you transferred to California?

I still had those dreams. I knew that there have been a lot of good players who have come from the I-AA, Division II and III levels.

When did you realize you had a chance to be discovered at Cal?

After my first year, the Steelers came in. They like to keep an eye on the guys in the PSAC. I know they have Joe Kuhn from Shippensburg now. They talked to me and then the next season, they really took an interest in me.

Was it a tough decision for you to leave Nebraska and transfer to California?

It was really tough. In fact, they called me in March and I didn't get back to them until June. I really didn't want to go there. But it worked out well for me. Life is full of forks in the road and you just have to pick one and go from there.

What are you going to do for the draft?

I'm going to go back home to Michigan to be with my family.

That's going to be a tough weekend for you.

Yeah, it really hasn't hit me yet. Probably by the middle of next week, I'll start getting nervous. But right now, I'm still pretty calm about it.

Who did you like growing up?

Barry Sanders. I'm a faithful Lions fan. That's who I grew up watching, so I've got to stick with them.

Would it bother you if you didn't get drafted and had to go into a camp as an undrafted rookie?

Either way, you're still in camp. I'd rather be drafted because I always wanted to go to a D-I school and play in front of millions of people. But if I get drafted and my family and friends get to see my name scroll across the TV, that will be all right.

Have you talked to any of the other former California players who have played in the NFL?

No, I didn't get a chance to do that. But I've had a couple of friends who have been in camps and they told me what to expect. One guy I played with in high school (A.J. Lindsey) at Joliet was a defensive tackle for the Packers last season. He told me that everything's the same as D-I or D-II except you have some of the higher-paid guys who really have their positions set. But everybody else is there fighting for a roster spot. Football is football.

Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter

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