2006 Draft Preview: Safety

Donte Whitner fought his way out of the Cleveland suburb of Glenville to Ohio State as one of the top-rated defensive backs coming out of high school a few years ago. Others on his Benedictine High School football team, however, weren't as lucky.

In the early morning hours of April 16, 2004, three Benedictine High School athletes drove to an area about two miles from school and a block from the home of one of the teens.

They targeted two men who had just pulled to the curb in their vehicle for a robbery. They thought the driver, 20-year-old Rodney Roberts, might have money and drugs. They also thought Roberts, who had a reputation in the neighborhood as laid-back and quiet, would be an easy target.

They were wrong.

According to reporters in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, sophomore Lorenzo Hunter was at Roberts' side while 18-year-old Raymond Williams, Ohio's Mr. Football, went around to the passenger side.

Both aimed phony guns, believed to be replicas of 9mm weapons. Jon Huddleston was nearby. One of trio demanded cash.

The passenger reached into his pocket and threw loose cash out the window.

Lorenzo then took the robbery a step further. He ordered Roberts out of the car, likely hoping to get more cash. But as Roberts got out, he pulled a handgun and fired.

Williams and Huddleston ran off and Roberts and his friend left, leaving Lorenzo in the street where he would die of three gunshot wounds.

This is the life Whitner escaped as a star athlete at Glenville High School, where he was coached by Ted Ginn, father of Whitner's Ohio State teammate Ted Ginn, Jr.

Whitner, who also played on the same youth football team with Williams for three years, was stunned to hear of the arrest.

"I'd give him the ball [back then] and with somebody in his face, Ray would cut right, cut left, then cut it back right and he was gone 80 yards for a touchdown," Whitner told the Plain Dealer.

Williams, whose scholarship to West Virginia was revoked upon his arrest, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery charges. Huddleston pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Both received probation.

Whitner, now one of the top safety prospects in this year's NFL draft, knows it very easily could have been him making that kind of mistake had he not chosen to devote his life to football.

"I'm most proud of being able to come from Glenville and give the guys at Glenville the courage they need to go on to college and even go on the pros," Whitner told Scout.com. "Just being able to come back and talk to a lot of the guys that are trying to make it to the place where I've been and the place where I'm going is really important."

Where the 5-11, 205-pound Whitner is going is to the NFL, where he'll be no worse than a mid-second round draft pick.

And he is definitely on the Steelers' radar. The defending Super Bowl champions lost starting free safety Chris Hope in free agency and released backups Mike Logan and Russell Stuvaints. The team signed Ryan Clark as a free agent from Washington, but still has just three safeties on its roster.

It wouldn't mind making Whitner a member of the Steelers. And Whitner would love to join a defense like Pittsburgh's.

"I just want to go to any team that has an attacking style of defense," he said. "That's what I like."

If the Steelers can't get Whitner, they also like Nebraska's Daniel Bullocks, Tennessee's Jason Allen, USC's Darnell Bing, Abilene Christian's Danieal Manning and South Carolina's Ko Simpson as possible free safety prospects.

The Steelers would likely have to select Bullocks, Allen or Bing in the first round, while it could wait until the end of the second round to grab Manning or Simpson. The Steelers could also make a move to trade up in the second round if they passed on a safety in the first round and one of the players they covet is still available in the middle of the second round.

Considering the depth of this year's safety class, the Steelers could also choose to wait until the middle of the draft to grab a quality prospect.

If that's the case, Penn State's Calvin Lowry, Miami (Ohio) defensive back Darrell Hunter, or Ohio State's Nate Salley could be chosen.

The Steelers are also toying with the idea of taking Stanford linebacker Jon Alston, a 6-0, 227-pound prospect, and making him a safety as they did with Carnell Lake in the late '80s. Alston could likely make the move given his 4.40 speed in the 40-yard dash.

Williams, by the way, has gotten his life back on track and will be a running back next year at Toledo.

Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter

Archives: Quarterback | Defensive Line | Running Back
Linebacker | Wide Receiver

Steel City Insider Top Stories