Chargers call on Towson's Vinson in 5th round

April 26, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

At 2:30 yesterday afternoon, Tony Vinson's life took an exhilarating turn.

The phone rang. The voice on the other end belonged to San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard. And before Beathard could deliver the news -- that Vinson had been selected by the Chargers in the fifth round of the NFL draft -- Vinson knew that weeks of nervous anticipation had been erased in an instant.

"An overwhelming feeling of relief came over me," Vinson said. "It's been a long road to get here. I've been through a lot of good times and bad times to get to this point. To finally reach this point, I'm ecstatic about it. Right now, I don't know what to do with myself."

Vinson became the first Towson State player to be drafted since David Meggett went to the New York Giants, also in the fifth round, in 1989. Vinson was the next-to-last player chosen in the fifth round, the 160th player taken overall. And he was the only running back chosen by the Chargers, who took nine players during the two-day draft.

Vinson and Max Lane, an offensive lineman from Navy selected bythe New England Patriots in the sixth round, were the only players drafted from Maryland schools.

Vinson wound up with San Diego after the Chargers traded fullback Marion Butts to the Patriots for third- and fifth-round draft picks early yesterday. He will fly to San Diego today to meet the Chargers coaches and begin preparing for the team's mini-camp. Vinson will join a team that has only two other running backs -- veteran Ronnie Harmon and Natrone Means, a second-year player.

"The opportunity is wide open for Tony," Beathard said. "After the trade, we felt we'd like to get a big guy like Tony. He's a much different back than Butts. Tony has a better chance of breaking the long one.

"The thing that jumps out about Tony is the speed he has for a big man and the consistency with which he's played. He's very good at 'picking,' coming to the line and finding the holes. He has been a dominant player at his level. Everybody that played Towson State had to stop Tony, and in most cases, they couldn't."

Vinson, 6 feet 2, 230 pounds, started his college career at Purdue, from where he transferred to Towson State after two seasons, dissatisfied with his role in the Boilermakers offense.

After sitting out a year, Vinson quickly became the focal point of the Tigers offense. In seven games as a junior, he rushed for 1,029 yards, but he injured his knee in the eighth game, causing him to miss the rest of the season.

Last fall, Vinson left an indelible mark on Towson State and Division I-AA. In 10 games, he rushed for a national-record 2,016 yards.

His season included five games of at least 200 yards, and he rushed for more than 300 in his final two games, leading Towson to an 8-2 record. Vinson set 15 school records, 11 Division I-AA records, and was named to the Associated Press Division I-AA All-America team.

"I was getting a little worried as the fifth round was winding down. I wasn't sure what was going to hap

pen," said Vinson. "Like Tony [Agnone, his agent] told me, it's usually the teams that don't seem interested who come after you."

The Chargers never scheduled a workout with Vinson, but Beathard watched him on tape last fall and saw him at the Senior Bowl in January and at the NFL scouting combines in February. He also kept tabs on Vinson's other workouts through Kurt Beathard, his son, who is an assistant coach at Towson State.

Soon after Vinson received his phone call, Lane learned he had been drafted by New England. Lane, a 6-6, 300-pound tackle, resigned from the academy two months ago after being implicated in the 1992 cheating scandal and learning he would be recommended for expulsion this spring.

"I remember in February thinking that the draft is in April, and I'd better make a move if I want to play. I think I made a smart one," Lane said. "New England has been interested all along. They worked me out on the [April] 18th, and the offensive line coach was pleased with me. Two years ago, I never would have thought about the NFL."

Morgan State defensive lineman Matt Steeple, who hoped to be drafted yesterday, was not selected. Steeple was talking with several teams last night, and said he expected to be invited to an NFL camp as a free agent.

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