By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Clint Sintim spent NFL draft weekend last April at Radio City Music Hall yards away from Commissioner Roger Goodell. The Virginia linebacker attended as a guest of college teammate and roommate Chris Long, who was selected No. 2 overall by the St. Louis Rams.
Sintim had watched Long develop from one of Virginia's most recognizable freshmen to one of the NFL's most heralded rookies. They shared a defensive huddle, helped each other in the weight room and became the subject of practical jokes. Sintim likes to shout Long's name in public places and embarrass the former all-American, who would rather go unrecognized.
Yet when Sintim heard Long selected as the second pick and watched 2008's finest draft prospects march into the television spotlight, don brand-new caps and flash a commemorative jersey while shaking Goodell's hand, he became both proud for his friend and motivated about his future.
"If you ever need an inspiration or a battery to charge you up, that was it," Sintim said. "To be up there for the draft weekend, seeing all his work paying off and all that [Long] accomplished by working hard and doing all the things he needed to do, that was it."
Long will be a guest at Sintim's Woodbridge home during this weekend's draft, when Sintim is expected to be selected in the first two rounds. Sintim will find out by a cellphone call from an NFL team, at which point his feeling will be more relief than surprise.
When Sintim arrived at Virginia, he had a reputation as someone blessed with the physical tools that were overshadowed by laziness. When teammates now discuss Sintim, they first mention his work ethic.
During offseason training, Sintim would not allow himself to be outworked. Junior linebacker Denzel Burrell said Sintim always needed to bench one more rep than a teammate and run the 40-yard dash one-tenth of a second faster -- all in the process of building a 6-foot-3, 254-pound frame.
"He has a great physique," said Kansas City Chiefs tackle Branden Albert, a former Virginia lineman. "You can't go out and get it."
Sintim's teammates independently attributed some of the improvement to Sintim's relationship with Long, who shuns the credit.
Long said Sintim's body language as a freshman gave the wrong impression, and that Long's role in Sintim's progress is due more to the chronology of their friendship than anything Long specifically instilled.
"Truth be told, as the years went on, people started to see not only can he play, but he's a hard-working guy," Long said. "And then there was a distinct point when he took that next step and became an above-and-beyond guy."
That point came before the 2007 season. Long went back to Virginia for his senior year. Sintim, who redshirted his first season at Virginia, was entering his junior year. As Long received national attention, Sintim took notice.
"Man, this is crazy," Sintim told Long. "I want this to be me next year."
"Hey, what's stopping you?" Long responded.
From that moment, Sintim emerged as one of the nation's finest linebackers. His eating habits improved, his body transformed, and he became one of the Cavaliers' locker room leaders. Playing as an outside linebacker in Coach Al Groh's 3-4 system, Sintim finished with 77 tackles and nine sacks as a junior and 69 tackles and 10 sacks as a senior. Groh said Sintim fits the defense "to the T," able to play on the tight end, rush the quarterback and fit into coverages.
"Me being in this 3-4 defense has benefited me tremendously," Sintim said. "A lot of these guys in this draft, you hear, 'Can he play in the 3-4?' If he's a defensive end, 'Can he stand up? Can he rush the passer?' There's no projection with me. It's something I did since I came to college. I've already been in the transition phases to learn to play the 3-4."
The agonizing part is determining what franchise will draft him. Sintim visited teams that play both the 3-4 and the 4-3 alignments. He heard coaches discuss him as a linebacker and a defensive end. Mock drafts project Sintim anywhere from late in the first round to middle of the second round, Internet fodder he admits he checks.
"One too many times a day," Sintim said. "It's become a nasty habit of mine to kind of look at these things and speculate what people have to say. It kind of just drives me crazy a little bit because you hear all the negatives, all the things I need to do or I'm not doing so well. But at the end of the day, all these mock drafts don't have any say in where I'll go."
Sintim said he would learn 30 seconds before it's revealed to the world. He joked he will memorize area codes so he knows who is calling. Long told him the work that matters was finished three months ago when the season concluded, and that he should appreciate the moment Sintim said will induce tears.
When Long visited Charlottesville last weekend for Virginia's spring game, Sintim embarrassed Long by calling him over to join a question-and-answer session. Long's redemption came after the scrimmage when he was a passenger in Sintim's car. The car sputtered as it reached a busy campus intersection. It had run out of gas, and the players were stranded for 30 minutes -- a time Long used to roast Sintim the way Sintim once did to Long.
"It's Clint Sintim, he's out of gas," Long mocked. "It's Clint Sintim, he's going to the NFL but doesn't have enough money to put gas into his car."
Long said Sintim had never been more embarrassed in his life. It was also an indication Sintim was recognized on his own.
"It was beautiful," Long said.