Demps finally getting noticed

Used to being overlooked, undrafted rookie safety gives Ravens' `D' boost

October 09, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Draft day can turn depressing for NFL prospects with inflated opinions of themselves. Because he had experience being unappreciated, however, Will Demps did not get down in the dumps when all seven rounds passed without mention of his name in April.

Demps is the rookie free agent who's identifiable by the bulky padding around his right arm - in the locker room he answers to "Robocop" or "The Michelin Man" - and the impact he made in his first two pro games. The Ravens started 0-2 when he was out with a dislocated elbow. Since Demps has been plugged in at free safety, he has helped the Ravens to a pair of stunning successes on national television.

Not too shabby for a kid who did not have a Division I-A scholarship offer coming out of a suburban Los Angeles high school. The Ravens' brain trust was giddy when it signed Demps without burning a draft choice. His name was buried in a list of 25 undrafted collegians signed by the club a few days after the 2002 draft, but it was considerably more attention than he got when he arrived unannounced at San Diego State five years ago.

"It's weird," Demps said. "Being undrafted is just like being a walk-on. The coaches know who you are, but ... I was overlooked by college recruiters. They didn't think I was big enough or fast enough. The only concrete scholarship offer I got was from St. Mary's [of Moraga, Calif.]. Nothing against St. Mary's, but I wanted to prove to doubters that I could play at a higher level."

Demps was among the most productive high school players in the greater Los Angeles area in the autumn of 1996, a first-teamer on the all-stars selected by The Los Angeles Times. He thought he would be able to stay home, shift from the stands to the field at the Rose Bowl, and play for UCLA. The Bruins recruited him, but instead made an offer to one of Ronnie Lott's nephews.

Passing on a sure thing at St. Mary's, a Division I-AA program, Demps headed further south. Making his way through Southern California without a car - which is like maneuvering on the moon without an oxygen tank - the then 17-year-old enrolled at San Diego State, but neglected to inform the Aztecs' coaching staff. He didn't officially work out with the team until spring practice in 1998, and wasn't put on scholarship until the summer of 1999.

"There were times I felt like quitting," Demps said, "but I don't quit anything."

Asked to list the assets that have allowed him to get this far, Demps mentioned adaptability. An Air Force brat who was born in Charleston, S.C., but lived on bases in England, Greenland and South Korea, Demps took to San Diego like a surfer to waves.

"It was so nice year-round, and there was always something to do," Demps said. "I would run on the beach in the morning to prepare myself for football. You could get a good workout on the beach, and have fun."

San Diego State's history includes Marshall Faulk, but the Ted Tollner coaching era ended with a pair of 3-8 seasons in which Demps received All-Mountain West Conference honors in 2000 and 2001. As a senior, he shepherded a secondary that included his younger brother, Marcus, and was versatile enough to shift to linebacker for a game at Ohio State.

Demps, 5 feet 11 and 210 pounds, has worked to get his 40-yard dash time below 4.6 seconds. He may move like a packhorse compared to thoroughbred sprinters like James Trapp and Chris McAlister, but his nose for the ball made an impression during minicamp and in the preseason.

Demps opened camp behind Anthony Mitchell, but returned an interception for the winning touchdown in the preseason opener against Detroit. He was injured in the preseason finale, and the wrap limits the extension of his right arm. Demps doesn't have any interceptions, but is it a coincidence that the defense that forced no turnovers in two games without him has notched eight since he joined the starting lineup?

Ray Lewis' interception of Tim Couch last Sunday came off Demps' deflection. He made some mistakes down the stretch in Cleveland - who on the defense didn't? - but Demps' play has been a plus.

"I was never the fastest, never the tallest, never the guy that had the best physical genes," Demps said. "I came here knowing that I might get overlooked, and I'm gonna survive by making plays."

NOTE: The Ravens worked out 6-foot-3, 295-pound defensive tackle Riddick Parker yesterday. Parker, a six-year veteran, spent last season with the New England Patriots, registering 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. He started all 16 games for the Seattle Seahawks in 2000 and recorded a career-high 48 tackles.

Sun staff writer Brent Jones contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Indianapolis Colts

Site:RCA Dome, Indianapolis

When:Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Colts by 6

SunSpot:For more coverage, visit sunspot.net/ravens

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