Combination of 'Bradford-to-Gilyard' hopefully will become a common refrain ..

By Alvin Reid

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Forget Sam Bradford; the guy to talk to this weekend during the St. Louis Rams rookie minicamp will be fourth-round pick Mardy Gilyard.

Sure the cameras will follow the first-round quarterback phenom’s every move. But the guy who will most likely catch most of his passes at the Russell Training Center is bringing more than talent to this team.

Gilyard has flair; personality; panache.

He also wasn’t disappointed at being drafted in the fourth round; many scouts and NFL personnel staffs had him being selected a bit higher.

"I thought I was going to be one of the top guys taken as far as wide receivers,” he said during a conference call Saturday. “But God has a plan for everybody, so I just tried to stay focused and deal with it.”

Gilyard’s college career shows that he lost focus in the classroom, regained it while playing in a football league most of us never heard of and grew into a top-echelon receiver.

And all this happened after he played cornerback as a freshman.

While driving to Florida in March I heard Gilyard on a national show and became a fan. He was witty while telling the story of his trip to the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and clever while working the “$5 dollar foot-long” Subway song into the interview.

Listeners had to laugh as he described NFL scouts and doctors “pulling on my big toe and twisting it.”

“I had stubbed my toe two years ago, didn’t miss a practice let alone a game. But they all kept asking “how’s the toe?'" he said.

He made an impression on the St. Louis media when asked what he was going to do during the remaining hours of Saturday after he was selected.

“I’m about to go crabbing,” he said from his Bunnell, Fla., home and cracked the place up when he said the desired bait is chicken necks.

In fact, he was responsible for catching some of the dinner for the draft party at his home later that evening.

The Rams added wide receiver Mardy Gilyard from Cincinnati with their pick in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday.
“Crabbing is an old school way of catching crabs. I’m from the backwoods and we’re country folk back here, so we’ll be in the backlands or the backwoods here in Florida not too far from where my parents stay at. It’s just old school - chicken necks, string and netting - just kind of catching crabs. Go for what you know,” he explained.

“We’re actually throwing a big party for me here in a couple hours, so I’ve got to be the man to bring back some crabs. “

He certainly won some female fans when he admitted that he calls his mother “my sugar wooga ooga booga” and “my everything.”

He also took reporters back to his childhood.

“As a kid you’re always doing the little countdown, ‘3-2-1, I’ve scored the winning touchdown!’ “I’m going pro!”
But Gilyard’s road to the pros was anything but easy.

First, he had to prove that a two-star ranking from after his senior season in high school did not mean he could not become a college All-American and then play pro football.

Recruited as a cornerback in 2005, Gilyard displayed his skill on the field, but not academically. He was redshirted in 2006 for academic reasons.

He is far from unintelligent; so it’s obvious he didn’t take his classes seriously.
He put his time to good use, though.

He attended school and played for the Cincinnati Kings Comets of the Mid-Continental Football League. He wasn’t risking his eligibility because MCFL teams are comprised of unpaid athletes and volunteer staff

In 2007 Gilyard was switched to receiver and started seven games. He snagged 36 passes for 536 yards and three touchdowns.

As the Bearcats grew into a national power, Gilyard became a nationally recognized talent. In 2008 he had 81 receptions for 1,276 yards and 11 touchdowns. In 2009 he won All-American honors with 87 receptions for 1,191 yards and 11 touchdowns.

At the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., he had 103 yards receiving and a touchdown and was named offensive player of the game.
But maybe the best moments of Gilyard’s brilliant career was in December when Kelly abandoned his undefeated team to take the Notre Dame head coaching position.
Many of his teammates openly criticized Kelly and full-scale mutiny was at hand before Gilyard and several other seniors pulled the team together.

The Bearcats got trounced by Florida in the Sugar Bowl, but Gilyard made sure his team showed up and played hard.
He’ll bring the same intensity - and personality – to St. Louis.

The Rams are sorely in need of more than just wins. The franchise needs reasons to get fans excited and interested in the team.
Gilyard can get it done. He proved it at Cincinnati, even though there were some dark days at the beginning of his career.
“Now that I’ve actually heard my name called and knowing that I’m going to be a Ram, that’s a blessing,” he said.