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The best player not at the combine?
If it hasnít happened already, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff is going to hear Vidal Hazelton's name at the scouting combine at some point this weekend.
Hazelton, perhaps the biggest draft-eligible name not at the combine, has given his agent, Kelli Masters, some very specific orders.
ďGet my name in front of the Falcons," Hazleton said. ďRemind them that Iím out there. That would be a dream scenario to end up with the Falcons. Theyíre the team I always rooted for growing up."
The fact Hazelton has spent much of his life living in Georgia also is a factor. And Hazeltonís biggest fan (more on that in a bit) lives in Alpharetta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta.
But Hazelton realizes heís no longer in a position where dream scenarios are likely. Thatís why Mastersí job is to also remind 31 other general managers that Hazelton is out there. Hazelton is proof that the NFL and college football are games that move quickly and even the brightest of stars can be forgotten.
ďI have no question that, if things had gone a little differently for Vidal, youíd be hearing all about him as a first-round pick during the combine," said University of Cincinnati receivers coach T.J. Weist, who has coached 14 future NFL receivers during a lengthy career in the college ranks. ďHeís got the size, heís got the physical tools, heís a great competitor and heís mentally tough and a great worker."
So why wasnít Hazelton even invited to the combine?
This is where the story veers way off that dream scenario and takes twists and turns that lead back and forth across the country. It could be a tragic story, but itís not. At least not at this point because Hazelton is adamant that this story is far from over and he's in charge of writing the ending. Before we get to that, though, letís go back to the beginning.
Letís go back to 2006, when Hazelton was one of the top college receiver prospects in the nation. He signed with a football factory, the University of Southern California, which has produced plenty of NFL receivers through the years.
Kevin Reece/Icon SMIVidal Hazelton's best season came in 2007, when he had 50 receptions for 540 yards at USC.
The plan was to go slowly and let Hazelton spend his freshman season playing behind Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith before making him the main target in the passing game. He led the Trojans with 50 receptions the next year, but things took a strange turn the following season. In the 2008 opener, Hazelton suffered a high-ankle sprain. By the time he returned, Damian Williams, Patrick Turner and Ronald Johnson had emerged and there wasnít a lot of playing time.
While this was going on, Hazeltonís grandfather, James Hazelton, was diagnosed with cancer. Hazelton wanted to be closer geographically to his grandfather. He transferred to Cincinnati and sat out the 2009 season. In a pass-happy offense, huge things were expected of Hazelton in 2010.
ďIn camp last summer, he was looking better than ever,íí Weist said. ďHe was just exploding off the ball and [NFL] scouts were getting all excited.íí
The buzz lasted for a little over half a game. In the season opener, Hazelton fielded a kickoff return and tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
ďIt happened on a Saturday," Hazelton said. ďI cried on Sunday. On Monday, I woke up in good spirits and I havenít looked back since. My father and my grandfather raised me to never look back and to only worry about the things you can control."
What Hazelton has controlled in the months in between is his knee. He made what doctors have jokingly told him was the quickest recovery ever from an ACL injury. He was even cleared for Cincinnatiís last two games, but didnít play because there still was the possibility of him being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. That didnít happen and Hazelton has moved on quickly.
Heís spent the last few months working out at Athletic Performance Institute in the Los Angeles area, along with many other prospects who are at the combine, and heís actually happy he wasnít invited.
ďI look at it as a blessing," Hazelton said. ďIím almost 100 percent, but this gives me more time to get ready."
The target date is March 28, when Cincinnati holds its pro day workouts.
ďI need to prove everything," Hazelton said. ďI need to show my knee is back. I love days like that. Iím more anxious than nervous. This whole thing has humbled me and made me more motivated."
Itís Mastersí job to make sure NFL teams show up for Hazeltonís workout, and Weist said heís been getting a lot of calls from NFL scouts recently. Weist is happy to share here the same scouting report heís been giving to the NFL people.
ďLook at how quickly heís come back from the injury," Weist said. ďThat says a lot about his work ethic. You just donít come back from an ACL in a few months. He showed heís going to put in the work and he showed heís got good genetics to be able to recover like he did. People ask me which NFL receiver Iíd compare him to and I say T.O. [Terrell Owens]. Heís a thick, powerful and explosive player. Heís right up there with any receiver in this draft in terms of physical ability. But what sets this kid apart is his maturity. Heís been through adversity and heís very hungry. A lot of guys going in arenít as hungry. Heís not going to take anything for granted."
Now, letís go back to the Falcons. Like every other team, theyíre not giving away any draft plans right now. Itís obvious Hazeltonís circumstances will push him down into the later rounds or perhaps make him a potential undrafted free agent.
Any chance with the Falcons would be a dream come true for Hazelton and for someone else. James Hazelton lives in Alpharetta and is a lifelong Falcons fan. James Hazelton is still battling cancer, his grandson said.
ďHeís doing all right and heís fighting," Hazelton said. ďHe keeps telling me heís not going anywhere until he sees me play in the NFL."
The Falcons have needs at wide receiver, where not much is certain after starters Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. Two other NFC South teams, Carolina and New Orleans, could be in the market for a developmental receiver in the later rounds. Even if itís not in Atlanta or anywhere in the NFC South, Hazelton believes heíll be in the NFL soon. Heís not showcasing his talent at the combine, but heís hoping to, once again, grab the attention that slipped away from him when he works out in Cincinnati.
ďIím totally confident I have the ability to play in the pros," Hazelton said. ďBut next month my job is to go out and show the pros that I can play. I have to make sure they havenít forgotten about me."
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Re: The best player not at the combine?
Dude, can't you just post a snippet and a link in one of the other threads?
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