Pat Brennan / Lantern photographer
It seems that for every story to emerge from the NFL Scouting Combine about the honest, hardworking former collegians trying to fight their way onto an NFL roster, there’s another about a drug fiend or a failed attempt at online dating.
It is likely many players at the Combine can tout a lifetime of obeying societal norms and laws, showing up for class and making the grade – the good guys. However, the good guys find themselves jockeying for a draft selection against athletes who have faced widespread public ridicule from being kicked out of their respective college programs to even drug rehabilitation.
Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., site of the Combine, is ground zero for this intersection of good and bad, the law abiding and the criminal, the internet savvy and the potentially gullible. Players of diverse and textured backgrounds speak to NFL coaches, general managers, scouts, the press, occasionally mere feet from each other, about the paths they chose in life. Good or bad, each player is trying to argue that his life’s path should include a stay in the city where that concerned NFL general manager or eager member of the media has traveled from.
Take Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, the former Brigham Young University linebacker, for instance. Ansah was born in Accra, Ghana, and you could hear it in his accent as he fielded questions during a Saturday press conference.
Ansah spoke of his African homeland with a toothy smile and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work out at the Combine and pursue an NFL career despite not being formally introduced to the game until after he enrolled at BYU.
“It’s a blessing,” Ansah said during his Saturday press conference. “This is a really humbling experience for me. I know a lot of people want to be in my shoes.”
Hours later, Manti Te’o, a former Notre Dame linebacker, finalist for the 2012 Heisman Trophy and later an alleged victim of an online dating hoax, took to podium “C” in the Combine’s media room as a sea of reporters let fly with camera shutters and questions about his now-public personal follies.
The story of Te’o’s victimhood is convoluted, but he maintains that his supposedly deceased girlfriend – Lennay Kekua – never existed. Te’o’s once-inspiring story of perseverance went up in smoke, and he claimed he was the victim of a hoax. At a Saturday Combine press conference, Te’o attempted to deflect questions (one reporter asked if he was currently dating anyone “in real life”) about the incident.
“I understand that people have questions,” Te’o said during his Saturday press conference, his first since news of Kekua not existing broke, “but I think I’ve answered everything I could. For me, I’d really like to talk about football … It’s pretty crazy. I’ve been in front of a few cameras. But not as many as this. I said all I needed to say about that.”
Te’o was calculated in his remarks about the hoax, causing some pundits to wonder about whether getting caught up with a fake girlfriend could actually cause him to drop in April’s NFL Draft.
Tyrann Mathieu was a little more candid while remarking on his very public missteps. Mathieu, a finalist for the 2011 Heisman Trophy as a cornerback, was kicked off the LSU football team after two marijuana-related incidents and an arrest. Mathieu was stirred from his sleep on Sunday at 4 a.m. for a drug test, but wide eyes and a smile accompanied this plea to the NFL during his afternoon press conference: “I’m not totally asking them to trust me right now, but what I am asking is for them to give me a chance.”
It’s hard not to think that the bad guys outshone the good guys when you look at the attention paid to athletes like Te’o ad Mathieu versus that paid to Ansah and even the seven Ohio State football Combine invitees.
Just as Ansah expressed appreciation for his Combine invitation through his thick Ghanian accent, the Buckeyes said they were thankful for what OSU football did for their careers.
“Going through this process, wherever I get drafted, I’m blessed to even be here,” former OSU defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins said during a Saturday interview session. “Wherever I go, I’m happy with that … All the OSU coaches supported me.”