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Local Prospects Find Ways of Playing The Waiting Game

Merriman, Miller Both Likely to Get Early Calls

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 23, 2005; Page D04

The days and hours leading up to the NFL draft are supposed to be filled with tension, rampant speculation and enough Mel Kiper Jr. to make Kiper's own family turn off the television.

Yet former Maryland safety Chris Kelley spent yesterday afternoon on a golf course with good friend and former Terrapin Justin Duffie.

Maryland safety Chris Kelley has been playing golf as a diversion. "Hey, it's all out of my control now, so I'm not going to get too stressed out about it. What happens, happens." (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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"Get in the hole," Kelley screamed before continuing a conversation on his cell phone. "Hey, it's all out of my control now, so I'm not going to get too stressed out about it. What happens, happens."

Kelley had an injury-plagued start to his career at Maryland, but found a home at safety last season and was impressive during pre-draft workouts. Now, the former Seneca Valley High School star is hoping he'll hear his name called this weekend. If not, Kelley is likely to be signed as an undrafted free agent.

Kelley plans on more golf this morning before heading over to his uncle's to watch the draft. Other area prospects such as Maryland linebacker Shawne Merriman, Virginia tight end Heath Miller, Virginia Tech cornerback Eric Green and Howard cornerback Ronald Bartell Jr. will come up with their own ways of passing the next 48 hours.

Merriman will wake up this morning knowing he probably could go anywhere from the fourth overall pick (Chicago) to the 12th overall pick (San Diego). To understand what is at stake for Merriman, consider that last year's fourth pick, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, signed a six-year contract worth $40.5 million, while last year's 12th pick, New York Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, signed a five-year deal worth $10.3 million.

The 6-foot-4, 272-pound Merriman has the potential to be a terror either as a pass-rushing defensive end or an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and began shooting up draft boards when teams saw him during pre-draft workouts.

Miller, who is considered the best tight end in the draft and has drawn comparisons to Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez and Baltimore's Todd Heap, also is expected to be a first-round pick.

Miller's draft status has been affected by a hernia injury last season and by the fact that one team that needed a tight end, the Jets, acquired Doug Jolley in a trade with Oakland.

Miller, who had 70 receptions for 835 yards and six touchdowns as a junior and 41 passes for 541 yards and five touchdowns last season, isn't likely to slip past the Raiders at No. 26 or the Steelers at No. 30.

For other local prospects such as Maryland players Domonique Foxworth and C.J. Brooks, Virginia players Darryl Blackstock, Elton Brown and Chris Canty and Virginia Tech's Jim Davis, Jon Dunn, Vincent Fuller and Bryan Randall, the draft is a tossup.

Brooks, who was a four-year starter at Maryland and played tackle and guard, could have been speaking for every draft prospect when he described what he was feeling yesterday afternoon.

"I've never been through anything like this; it's been a whole new experience for me," said Brooks, who has been projected as a second-day pick. "It's crazy because I'm happy and fortunate to be going through this, but it's also stressful because I have no idea where I'm going to end up."

Brooks hasn't made any solid plans for the draft, saying he'll likely stick around College Park and watch events unfold with friends but will keep his cell phone close by.

"I've told people not to be calling me, just in case," Brooks said. "Have to keep that line clear."

Even if they don't get drafted, local athletes may land on an NFL roster later this summer. Take former Maryland defensive end Eric Hicks, who is entering his eighth season with the Chiefs. After waiting to hear his named called well into the second day of the 1998 draft, Hicks decided he had had enough and went shopping.

The Chiefs signed Hicks as an undrafted free agent following the draft, and he made the team's active roster as a rookie. Hicks is now on his third contract with the Chiefs and is ranked fifth on the team's all-time sack list.

"You see, that's what I'm talking about," Kelley said when reminded of Hicks's story. "That's why all of the speculation that goes into the draft is so meaningless, because the only thing that matters is what I do when I get out on that field. All I need is for some team to give me a chance."

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