In the weeks and months of pre-draft analysis that was put in on the players who would be the first players selected on draft weekend, one of the most likely pairings on paper was the Minnesota Vikings and Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes.
Head coach Mike Zimmer has a long history of bringing the best out of defensive players, especially cornerbacks. In the days leading up to the draft, it seemed as though there were only two players that seemed destined to end up a Viking – Waynes because of Zimmer’s affinity for coaching up corners and wide receiver DeVante Parker, largely because he was college teammates with Teddy Bridgewater.
Just as outside onlookers saw the Vikings-Waynes connection, he saw it too and Zimmer and the Vikings were the measuring stick of teams that would follow because the Vikings got to Waynes first and he had a good feeling through their numerous contacts throughput the draft process that their marriage was pre-ordained.
“It was obvious they liked me, but it’s a process and I had to keep an open mind,” Waynes aid. “I had a great feeling when I went and visited them. The coaches were great. I got along with them great. I know they’re about their business. Actually, they were my first visit. It was just a really good feeling all around.”
What he didn’t expect was that Zimmer would put him to the test at a private workout the Vikings had at Michigan State. He put Waynes through his paces, emphasizing his weaknesses, because Zimmer already knew his strengths.
“He definitely was pushing me,” Waynes said. “I knew he was making me a better player. I’m all for it.”
The fact that Waynes is now in the NFL is something of a minor miracle. As a senior at Kenosha Bradford High School, Waynes suffered a catastrophic leg injury, breaking his ankle, his fibula and tearing three knee ligaments. It took a long time to heal, but Waynes wasn’t about to give up or let the setback crush his football dreams.
“I never gave up,” Waynes said. “I stuck with competing to do something I love to do. I kept pushing forward and stayed positive.”
One of those who was instrumental in Waynes’ success and rise to prominence was fellow cornerback teammate Darqueze Dennard – a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals last year.
They were more than just teammates. They made it their mission to make each other better and the results were obvious – both of them became first-round draft picks.
“He had a lot on me in practice,” Waynes said. “We competed against each other every day. He’s a great corner and he helped shape me as a corner I am today.”
For his part, Waynes is looking forward to being the next project that has been molded by Zimmer’s influence. He’s aware of his reputation as star-maker of cornerback talent and looks to be the next in that long line of success.
“He’s a DB guru,” Waynes said. “He’s a good coach. He knows what he’s talking about. He coached up Deion (Sanders). He’s coached up some other good corners as well. If he can make me half the player Deion Sanders is, I think we will be pretty good.”
Waynes saw Vikings connection early
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