There’s an old saying about offensive linemen: The only people in a stadium that watches them are their mother and their offensive line coach.
Not even a lineman’s father will watch his son really play. He’s too vested in what the quarterback is doing. But goof up once, just once, and everybody knows who missed a block, which player let that quarterback get sacked.
David Born and D.J. Morrell play on the offensive line for the Old Dominion Monarchs. They’d like to be somewhat anonymous and follow that lineman’s creed – play as many snaps as possible without being recognized – except they are both so incredibly big that it’s hard to miss them.
Born stands 6-foot-8. Morrell is 6-6. Both weigh in at 328 pounds.
But as they reach the ends of their careers with the Monarchs, suddenly they’d like people to take notice. People like NFL scouts. The NFL has come to eyeball the two this fall. In fact, as of last week 21 organizations had sent a scout to gauge the two seniors. Last week it was the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos.
Born said the visits aren’t so much like a job interview as they are like a cocktail mixer for same-minded businessmen. Questions are asked, but it’s somewhat informal.
“They ask what you like and ask about your family, things like that,” Born said. “One asked me if I had a girlfriend. When I said yes, he said, ‘Have you met her?’ ”
Born got the joke. Last year, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo was a Heisman Trophy candidate. Stories had been written about a supposed girlfriend of Teo’s who had died. Many believed he received sympathy votes for the Heisman because of the stories. When it was discovered that it was an internet girlfriend and not a real person, Teo’s credibility heading into the NFL Draft took a hit.
Scouts are there not only to gauge size, speed and ability, but also to get a feel for a player’s adaptability should they be drafted or signed to a free-agent contract by an NFL team.
Should Born or Morrell be drafted, they would become the first ODU players to do so. While a handful of players have signed as free agents – Ronnie Cameron even made it onto the active roster of the Cleveland Browns for a short period of time last year – no ODU player has had his name called in the draft to this point.
If Born’s name were to be called, it would vindicate his three-star recruiting status coming out of high school. Born had some offers from some big-time programs – Nebraska and Colorado – but held out hoping for an offer from UCLA, seeing how he’s a California kid. When he held out, Nebraska and Colorado pulled their offers and he ended up at Sacramento State. Disenchanted there, he went to junior college for a semester before enrolling at ODU.
Morrell’s path was equally circuitous and at times more frustrating. He did two years at Dean Junior College and transferred to ODU expecting to play in 2011. But the NCAA ruled that his transcript was missing a class and he had to establish a year in good academic standing at ODU before being allowed to play. He has started every game since. Irritated would be the mild description of how he felt about sitting out the year.
“We all have our challenges in life,” Morrell said. “And I’ve had my share, enough to be surprised sometimes that I’m still playing and that I could have a chance to play at the next level.
“I’ve been through my share. I have a brother who needed a heart transplant. Then he was in a car accident that paralyzed him. My parents divorced. There was the grades thing. But it all comes down to looking at the guy in the mirror and asking ‘Have I done everything possible to succeed?’ ”
At this point, the answer for both is yes.