NFL veterans remember their combine experiences with great detail, similar to recalling their wedding, or the arrival of their first born.
It sticks, it resonates, and a good combine showing can solidify a prospect’s draft position, or send him free-falling down the draft board.
Donte’ Stallworth can vouch for this. The former Grant High School, Tennessee and 10-year NFL wide receiver was known for his hands and speed. He carefully thought out his combine approach, what to say to scores of NFL scouts and executives, how to say it with conviction.
Stallworth saved his 40-yard dash for a pro-day workout at Tennessee shortly before the draft. He participated in a number of drills at the combine otherwise, including bench-pressing 225 pounds 19 times, more than some defensive linemen.
In his 40 buildup, Stallworth used a bit of gamesmanship to help his cause. His best 40 time in college was 4.38 seconds as a freshman. He assured NFL scouts throughout the combine that he was a steady 4.4 guy, but secretly sensed he would go a great deal faster.
“On that pro day, I ran it one time, hand timed, and one scout had me at a 4.18 and another at 4.22,” Stallworth said this week by phone from Washington D.C., where he is on a six-month fellowship with The Huffington Post covering national security politics. “I couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled. I thought the clocks were off. The scouts were impressed. That set the tone for me.”
Stallworth went 13th overall to the New Orleans Saints in 2002 and remains the highest-picked skill player from Sacramento. Stallworth logged 115 career games, catching 321 passes and 35 for touchdowns. He was at times slowed and ultimately undone by the two pillars that propelled him into the league: his hamstrings.
Now he’s pulling for another Grant alum to sizzle through the combine and beyond. Shaq Thompson of Washington is a projected first-round pick as a strong safety or outside linebacker. Stallworth reached out to Thompson to offer words of encouragement and advice, their bond rooted in a lasting fondness for Grant.
“He’s a special, special talent,” Stallworth said of Thompson. “We talked a lot about the combine and using a certain approach. It’s a job interview, and for a lot of guys, this is the first real interview that they’ve had.
“I told him it’s serious, but to also have fun. Treat it like a game, relaxed and comfortable. This is something you’ve worked for since you were a kid. This is your dream. You were like a lot of guys growing up, pretending you were in the NFL catching the ball in the backyard, scoring the winning touchdown. But be prepared. Know your opponent, who you’re talking to. Mainly, you’re competing against yourself, so be well rested, mentally and physically ready to go. The more prepared you are, the more confident you are.”
Thompson’s best 40 in college was a 4.57. He wants to dip to a high 4.4. Should he do that, Stallworth said, Thompson will likely secure a first-round selection. The idea of the strong-bodied Thompson closing in on ballcarriers at that rate of speed will be tempting for NFL teams. It’ll mean bodies will soar upon contact.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how Shaq does,” Stallworth said. “A lot of people are.”
Stallworth said he enjoys his new writing adventure, making the transition from 40 times and touchdowns to politics and a keyboard. He’s done pieces on subjects ranging from Hilary Clinton to this country’s relationship with Cuba. Inside, however, there will always be an NFL competitor. Stallworth said he misses the game, particularly his teammates, and, of course, game action.
Stallworth has spoken to NFL teams, rookies and corporations about his playing experiences, how any work place is forged by teamwork. He has talked of his memorable moments, getting drafted and playing for six teams. And he has shared his moments of despair, including a 2009 DUI manslaughter charge to which he pleaded guilty.
“Football,” Stallworth said, “is the ultimate team game, and it carries into any work setting. Everything I do, I do it in football terms, including writing a story for the paper. Be prepared. Have fun.”
Two years removed from the game, does Stallworth have any burst left? With stretching and a warm up, Stallworth said he could still produce “a good suit-and-tie 40.”
“If I rested, prepared, I would hope I could do a 4.5,” Stallworth said. “Otherwise, I’m too old.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.