Bushrod marches uniquely to NFL

Meeting at bar helped lead to Saints drafting Towson's star tackle

May 24, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

Most NFL prospects are discovered through a traditional process that begins with scouts coming to practices and ends with players being invited to the league's combine in Indianapolis and workouts for individual teams.

Then there is the less-conventional way the New Orleans Saints found Towson's Jermon Bushrod, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive tackle taken in the fourth round in last month's draft.

"The computers," Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt said, "had nothing to do with this one."

The process started over beers at a Cockeysville bar two weeks before the draft.

Vitt, a star linebacker for the Tigers during the 1970s, was in the area planning his annual summer crab feast in Ocean City.

During cocktails at a bar on Padonia Road, Towson coach Gordy Combs mentioned to Vitt that officials from 20 NFL teams had come in for the school's pro day. At least five offensive line coaches came specifically to see Bushrod, who later would visit nearly a dozen teams for interviews and workouts.

"I told Joe there were a lot of people in to look at him," Combs said. "I said he did really well, he ran a 4.9 [in the 40-yard dash]. I guess he went back and said something. That Tuesday [before the draft], Doug Marrone, the offensive coordinator and line coach, came up and worked Jermon out for a short period of time and watched video."

Said Vitt: "I thought that if all those guys at Towson raved about him - and some of them coached me - there must something to this kid."

Five days later, Bushrod became the first Towson player to be drafted since 1994 and the school's fourth overall. At No. 125, Bushrod became the highest selection in school history.

About a month has passed, but the whirlwind of finding his way from the obscurity of a program in what was formerly known as Division I-AA to the likelihood of playing for one of the NFL's top teams still stuns a young man who grew up in the backwoods of King George, Va.

"I didn't think I would be at this point at all," said Bushrod, 22, who paid his way his first two years of college when Towson was transitioning from the then-nonscholarship Patriot League to the Atlantic 10. "I thought after two or three years coming out of high school, hearing from different people that I had the size and footwork and stuff like that, I thought I may have a shot, but never this."

Towson assistant coach John Donatelli, whom Bushrod credits for bringing him to the brink of a pro career, is not surprised at his star pupil's progress.

"There's a lot of young men that have his ability, but there's not a lot of young men that have his will and his dedication and his passion," said Donatelli, Towson's offensive line coach for the past 10 years.

Donatelli said Bushrod came to Towson with "more of a basketball body, long and lean," but after breaking his foot early in his freshman year, Bushrod "disappeared" into the weight room. A few months later, 270 pounds had turned into 300, and Donatelli saw the makings of a dominating offensive tackle.

"I was amazed what he had done," Donatelli said. "It was a growth spurt and basically his work ethic. He was sort of like Bambi. He had a lot of ability and parts were flying everywhere. It was just a process year by year, and we just worked on a few things each year with him."

Going into last season, Donatelli pulled Bushrod aside and asked if he was serious about playing in the NFL.

"I said, `You have to understand that everything you do, it has to be perfect,'" Donatelli recalled. " `You have to dominate every snap in this league.' He could either settle for being a really, really outstanding player at Towson and being remembered as that or taking his potential all the way. He was an unbelievable student, on and off the field."

Said Bushrod, who yesterday received his degree in sports management: "He taught me how to be a pro."

The transition from college to the NFL is difficult for players with much more impressive pedigrees than Bushrod's, but he doesn't seem intimidated that he will soon be counted on to block for Saints running back Reggie Bush and protect quarterback Drew Brees.

"It's my job. It doesn't matter who it is back there," Bushrod said. "It's an amazing feeling, just to put the helmet on and then to go out there and practice and play hard to the best of your ability every day."

Bushrod made a favorable impression at the Saints' rookie and free-agent minicamp earlier this month.

"I was impressed with how good of shape he was in," Marrone said. "He was one of the most in-shape players when he came to rookie camp that I've ever seen. Maybe that's because of all the workouts he had been through. He wasn't overwhelmed by anything. It wasn't too big for him."

Bushrod understands how much his life is about to change. All he has to do is look at the Saints' roster on the team's Web site.

Naturally, Bushrod is listed right below Bush, the former Heisman Trophy winner who was picked No. 2 overall last year.

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