|« Appalachian State tops TSN Top-25 poll||Pioneer League offers NCAA football on a budget »|
Fordham QB John Skelton Muscles Way into NFL Draft Conversation
John Skelton knew he was being watched. He could feel the eyes trained on him, analyzing his footwork, dissecting his throwing motion, even scrutinizing the way he carried himself during Thursday’s practice.
Fordham’s senior quarterback knew an NFL scout was sizing him up like a piece of meat. But he didn’t care.
“I used to get nervous,” he said. “But not anymore.”
Until this month, Skelton had never seen an NFL scout, much less had one breaking down his own performance. Few league personnel men were interested in visiting the tiny Jesuit school with the Division I-AA gridiron program.
That’s gradually changing. The Jets, Broncos and Redskins have all sent reps to Fordham, and the Colts and a handful of other teams have requested credentials to scout the squad during the season.
They’re all coming to see Skelton, who is rapidly emerging as one of this year’s most intriguing quarterback prospects. He’s hardly a household name like Florida’s Tim Tebow, but if he leads the Rams to a solid season in front of all those scouts, he just may find himself battling Tebow and others for position in the 2010 NFL Draft.
“Before the year’s over, there will probably be 32 scouts going past Fordham,” says former Cowboys personnel guy and NFL.com draft guru Gil Brandt, who ranks Skelton as the country‘s ninth-best senior QB. “Many of them have never been to Fordham or don’t know about Fordham football. But a lot of them are going to love this guy.”
The 21-year-old Skelton smiles politely at such compliments. Throughout his career - from youth football to high school to college - he’s toiled in anonymity and watched others bask in the limelight.
“I’ve always believed I had the ability,” Skelton says. “It’s just, nobody else saw it until now.”
Skelton has a tantalizing skill set. He stands 6-5 and packs a solid 258 pounds onto his country-strong frame. He has a Howitzer masquerading as a right arm: he regularly launches 50-yard bombs in practice. And he’s always possessed an athleticism that belies his size: he played shortstop on his high school baseball team.
One NFL scout said Skelton has “all the tools” to succeed, and Fordham coach Tom Masella calls him the “total package.”
All this from an athlete who barely registered on recruiting radars during his years at Burges HS in El Paso, Tex. Skelton was a three-year starter, and as a senior, he was the “best player in El Paso, hands down,” according to younger brother Steve, a junior tight end at Fordham.
But in the football hotbed that is Texas, Skelton garnered little attention. As a senior, he was overshadowed by Jevan Snead (now a starter at Ole Miss), Sherrod Harris (a backup at Texas) and Matt Stafford (the Detroit Lions’ 2009 first-round draft pick).
“I thought I was pretty good,” Skelton says. “Then I went to this recruiting event at Texas Tech. All everyone was talking about was Jevan Snead.”
Few college scouts showed up to Skelton’s games. He earned All-District honors as a senior, but only his hometown college, UTEP, offered a scholarship.
Skelton had little interest in the offer; as a youngster, he’d dreamed of suiting up for the Longhorns or traveling to the East Coast. So Skelton’s father, John Sr., set up visits to I-AA programs Fordham, Holy Cross and Columbia.
The family left a highlight tape at each stop. Moments after Masella watched the video, he called John Sr. and told him he’d visit El Paso. Even Masella, who had strong ties to Texas from his days as an assistant at Louisiana Tech, hadn’t seen Skelton before, but the short film left him impressed.
“You could just tell he would fit for us,” the fourth-year coach says. “Then I went down there, and I saw him playing basketball, saw him playing shortstop. Kids with that kind of athletic ability don’t come along often.”
Skelton quickly committed to Masella, and he’s blossomed into a star, emerging as Fordham’s starter midway through his freshman year. As a sophomore, he led the team to the Patriot League title. Last season, he passed for 2,605 yards and 15 touchdowns. Along with his large frame, those solid stats attracted the NFL’s attention.
“He did some good things against some solid teams,” Brandt says. “He has some nice potential, although I can’t say where he’s going (in next year’s draft).”
That will be decided when Skelton takes the field this fall. For all his talents, he must overcome the stigma that comes with quarterbacking a small school, and he’ll spend much of the year in the shadow of Tebow, Snead and Texas Longhorns QB Colt McCoy. But a standout senior season would help quell pro scouts’ fears.
“If we do well, it’ll give him that boost,” says Masella, who worked with future pro quarterbacks Tim Rattay and Luke McCown at Louisiana Tech. “If we do well, he’ll be a big reason.”
Skelton can’t wait to embrace that role.
“I have a chance to make it to the NFL,” he says. “Nobody thought I would, but now, I’m almost there.”
Fordham QB John Skelton muscles way into NFL Draft conversation
by Ebenezer Samuel, The New York Daily News