Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Draft 2002 [Print without images]

Friday, April 19, 2002
Draft day can't come soon enough

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

BEAUFORT, S.C. -- When his name is called during the first round of Saturday's NFL Draft, Ashley Lelie probably won't be sitting in front of the TV.

Last fall Ashley Lelie ran wild in Hawaii. Saturday he'll find out where he'll be running in the NFL.
The wide receiver from Hawaii figures he'll be hiding in the bedroom, overcome with nerves. After all, this is one of the biggest moments of his life. It's a moment he dreamed of as a little boy. A moment he once doubted would ever come.

And it's a moment that will determine the path on which he'll take the next steps of his career. Friday night, it's a mystery. By Saturday afternoon, there will be answers to at least some of the questions -- Who will his teammates be? What offense will they run? Will they have a running game? Where will he live?

So many things of so much importance all rest on one moment, and Lelie isn't even sure when that moment will come -- at pick No. 8, about two hours into the first round? Or 90 minutes or so later, at No. 14? Or later still?

Saturday is going to be a long day in the Lelie household.

"I think I'm going to be a wreck," Lelie said. "It's totally different when your name is on the draft board."

Lelie's agents and most draft prognosticators predict he will be selected anywhere between No. 8 and No. 17. The options -- and the different situations they present -- are endless.

There's Kansas City at No. 8. Chiefs scouts flew out to California for a private workout with Lelie, showed a ton of interest early and then signed free agent receiver Johnnie Morton, decreasing the chances they'll use a No. 1 pick on a wideout.

Then there's Atlanta, which picks No. 17. The Falcons are looking to give quarterback Michael Vick his first real toy, and Lelie's size, speed and vertical style would fit perfectly. In addition, Lelie, Vick and Falcons head coach Dan Reeves all are represented by Octagon.

Other possibilities include the Tennessee Titans, who had a great meeting with Lelie a couple weeks ago and pick 14th, as well as the New Orleans Saints, who pick 13th, and the Washington Redskins, who select a pick before that at No. 12. There even was speculation that Detroit, holding the No. 3 pick, might trade down to get both Lelie and extra picks.

That's six teams, four divisions, three domes and two time zones, not to mention six different rosters, offensive philosophies, head coaches and owners. And six different cities, lifestyles and climates, none of them quite like Honolulu.

Less than 24 hours from the moment of truth, the possibilities are nearly endless.

"Even the teams that don't need a receiver, or haven't expressed an interest, I'll be crossing my fingers for," Lelie said. "You just never, ever know."

Since Lelie, a junior, declared himself eligible for the draft in January, his stock has been as volatile as NASDAQ. It was sky high back in February, when he ran a blistering 4.26 40-yard dash during preparations for the NFL combine. But a nagging hamstring injury that kept him from working out at the combine and ended another pro workout early has teams concerned.

With his hamstring at 75 percent, Lelie worked out for 13 teams last week, running pass routes to prove that the leg is a minor injury and should be fine by next week's mini-camps, but teams have been floating the idea that his leg is an issue.

Some believe that could be a smokescreen to disguise teams' interest, but others insist it's a legitimate problem.

"I think if he did not hurt his hamstring and would have been able to work out at full strength, he would be a lock to be a Top 10 pick." said Doug Hendrickson, one of Lelie's two agents at Octagon. "But hey, injuries are something nobody can control. It may have cost him a little bit with his draft status. But not that much."

Since day one, Lelie has said his only goal is to be picked in the first round. After all, this is a kid who didn't have one scholarship offer coming out of high school and had to walk on at then lowly Hawaii.

But he thrived in the wide-open passing attack of coach June Jones, finished second in the nation in receiving last year and declared for the draft. He's likely to be the highest player ever drafted from Hawaii.

"As long as I get picked in those first couple hours, my dream will come true," Lelie said.

Lelie will watch the draft at his parents' house in South Carolina. Joining him will be his younger brother Justin, a U.S. Marine stationed in Okinawa whom Ashley hasn't seen in months.

You know, there are all these mock drafts and predictions, but what people don't realize is that this is your life they're talking about. They're playing games with where you're going to start the next chapter of your life.
Ashley Lelie
Lelie said he has an added interest in this year's draft not only because of all it means to him, but because of all it means to the various players he's met and befriended the past three months. He's closest with Tennessee wideout Donte Stallworth, who is expected to be the first receiver taken.

"I've talked to him about once a week," Lelie said. "It's funny -- we want the other one to succeed more than ourselves. There's just such a respect there. He's totally cool. And I'll be cheering for him on Saturday."

Hearing his own name called will mark just the beginning of what is sure to be a whirlwind weekend. Almost instantly after the pick, he'll be off to his new city to meet the coaches, the media, his teammates and begin the transition to his new life.

"You know, there are all these mock drafts and predictions, but what people don't realize is that this is your life they're talking about," Lelie said. "They're playing games with where you're going to start the next chapter of your life."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com.