The audition was done. There were no more sprints to be run, no more weights to be lifted, no more questions to be answered to try to impress the NFL coaches, scouts and front-office executives who will determine his future today. For Ronald Bartell Jr., all that was left in recent days was the waiting.
And that can be the toughest part of the entire wearying pre-draft process for NFL hopefuls like Bartell, the Howard University cornerback with aspirations of being selected in one of the draft's early rounds. "I'm doing pretty good," Bartell said, unconvincingly, yesterday from Detroit, where he plans to watch today's proceedings at his family's home. "I'm more anxious than nervous."
"I've done everything I possibly could have done," said Howard cornerback Ronald Bartell Jr. "I have no regrets."
(Tom Story For The Washington Post)
Others tell a different story. "He's as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs," said Bartell's mother, Phyllis. "I could tell it was getting to him. He's been pacing the house."
Bartell arrived in Detroit at midweek, soon after taking a four-day vacation to Miami with his girlfriend, Nicole Francis. His agents sent him on the trip to try to get him to relax, for at least a few days, in such a stressful time. "I always tell them to take up a hobby," Bartell's agent, Jeff Griffin, said of his pre-draft advice to his clients. "I advise them to either take up sewing or get away for a few days."
Bartell's thoughts, however, didn't stray far from the draft, even while supposedly unwinding beneath the Florida sun. "It was all still going through my mind," he said. "I'm sure my girlfriend got tired of me talking about it."
Since December, Bartell has spent virtually every waking moment preparing for what will happen today. He has shuttled back and forth between Washington, Detroit and Tempe, Ariz., the site of the elite training facility to which his agent sent him to work out twice a day, six days a week. He spent a week at the closely scrutinized practices for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in late January. He attended the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in late February and endured a chilly, rainy day to work out for representatives from three teams at his pro day on Howard's campus last month.
Most recently came a series of meetings with individual teams that took Bartell to Tennessee and St. Louis. He attended the Washington Redskins' workout day for prospects with local ties, but didn't work out. Griffin said he turned down proposed visits to Philadelphia and Cleveland because of scheduling conflicts.
On these visits, Bartell said, coaches would put him in front of a chalkboard and quiz him on Xs-and-Os. But many of the other questions sounded familiar. "There's nothing different left to ask me, really," Bartell said.
Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz came to D.C. for a follow-up meeting. Griffin calls the Titans the club that has demonstrated the most interest in Bartell "by far," followed by the Cincinnati Bengals and Rams. Griffin says he got a call from Rams General Manager Charley Armey in the middle of Bartell's visit to the team -- "to let me know how impressed he was," Griffin said -- and he had a long conversation in recent days with Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle. "Coyle loves him," Griffin said.
Griffin said he spends more time attempting to figure out when Bartell is likely to be drafted than by whom. The "by whom" part, he says, is nearly impossible to figure out. Things change too quickly. The Houston Texans looked like a top contender to draft Bartell, but then they traded their second- and third-round picks to the Oakland Raiders this week for a cornerback, Phillip Buchanon. The Texans, New York Giants and New York Jets had representatives at Bartell's pro day.
On the "when" issue, Griffin said: "I have the same feeling I've had all along: I feel it's going to be the bottom of the first [round] or the top of the second. But we both realize anything can happen."
A few teams have Bartell projected to go in the second or third round. Bartell isn't venturing any guesses. "You hear things, but I don't really know what to think," he said. "I think they [teams] kind of play games with you."
Bartell's father, Ronald Sr., avoids draft-related media reports. But Phyllis Bartell can't resist, scanning the Internet for gossip and projections.
"I'm weak," she said. "I look. But I've gotten to the point where I can laugh at the good stuff and overlook the bad stuff. You have to be that way. Otherwise you'll just want to e-mail everyone and say, 'You can't say that about my son.' I have learned that most of these draft boards know little or nothing."
Her husband's outward calm, she said, is "a big farce," adding: "He's more nervous than the rest of us. He doesn't read the Internet. He just bugs Ron [Jr.] to death."
Bartell's parents are delaying celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary, which comes today, until after they see what happens in the draft. "Hopefully there will be something to celebrate," Phyllis Bartell said. "We said, 'We'll delay that because he's so nervous and tense.' . . . Hopefully his name will be called early enough that we'll be able to go out and have a nice dinner."
Her son is doing his best to prepare himself for any outcome.
"I feel like I've done everything I possibly could have done through my training, the Senior Bowl, the combine, my workouts -- everything," Ron Bartell said. "I wouldn't change anything. I have no regrets. And now whatever happens, happens."