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FCS Is A Hotbed Of NFL Talent
When Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was taken as the 16th pick of the NFL draft on Saturday, it was a fitting culmination of a journey that began on what might have looked like a bumpy, unpaved road to nowhere.
Rodgers-Cromartie wasn’t on the college radar when he was graduated from Lakewood Ranch High School in 2004. He decided to play for Tennessee State University, a Division I-AA program in Nashville.
Not a bad choice. Division I-AA may not be the big time, but it has a long history of pumping star players into the NFL.
Remember Walter Payton? (Jackson State.)
How about Jerry Rice? (Mississippi Valley State.)
Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo was a quarterback for Eastern Illinois where he won the 2002 Walter Payton Award which annually goes to the division’s top player.
Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens played at Chattanooga.
The list is lengthy.
Don’t forget New England wide receiver Randy Moss (Marshall), former Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet (Hofstra), Colts placekicker Adam Vinatieri (South Dakota State), Eagles running back Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner (Northern Iowa) or Packers wide receiver Donald Driver (Alcorn State).
Alcorn State also produced quarterback Steve McNair, who went on to play for the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens.
St. Louis Rams linebacker Dexter Coakley played at Appalachian State. University of Michigan fans know all about the Mountaineers.
And then there’s former Jacksonville Jaguar Jimmy Smith (Jackson State), who caught 862 passes for 12, 287 yards and 67 touchdowns.
Dwayne Carswell (Liberty) was a standout offensive guard for the Denver Broncos.
New England’s veteran wide receiver Troy Brown played for Marshall’s 1992 Division I-AA national championship team.
Ravens center Mike Flynn (Maine), Cardinals running back Marcel Shipp (Massachusetts), former Bears cornerback Jerry Azumah (New Hampshire), Bills cornerback Terrence McGee (Northwestern State), Texans linebacker Shawn Barber (Richmond), Patriots long snapper Lonie Paxton (Sacramento State), former Ravens and Browns offensive tackle Orlando Brown (South Carolina State) and Bucs linebacker Jeremiah Trotter (Stephen F. Austin).
Tennessee State defensive backs coach Randy Fuller, who coached Rodgers-Cromartie, played six seasons in the NFL with Denver, Atlanta, Seattle and Pittsburgh. The cornerback was a member of the Steelers 2006 Super Bowl team.
One of Tennessee State’s most famous NFL alumni is Ed “Too Tall” Jones, a defensive end who anchored the Dallas Cowboys’ vaunted “Doomsday Defense.” Jones was taken by the Cowboys in the first round of the 1974 draft and went on to play 232 consecutive games.
Big schools didn’t want Rodgers-Cromartie after his stellar senior season at Lakewood Ranch. Maybe it was his size (6 foot 11/2, 184 pounds)? Maybe it was because he played at three different high schools?
Chances are it was simply a case that they just missed an golden opportunity.
Many of the cornerbacks that signed with Division I-A schools that year will be watching Rodgers-Cromartie play football on Sunday this fall.
Doesn’t matter where you play your college ball. As the list of Division I-AA alumni in the NFL proves, talent is a difficult secret to keep.
EAST MANATEE SPORTS