- Rich Cimini, ESPN New York Jets reporter
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More than 200 miles from the billionaires-versus-millionaires labor fight in Washington, D.C., and a world away from the clamor created by the future millionaire/entertainer/icon known as Cam Newton, the purest form of the NFL spring played out Tuesday in the Bronx.
The small-school dreamers -- 28 of them -- showed up to Fordham's pro day on the Rose Hill campus. Six Fordham seniors, along with 22 other draft-eligible players from 13 other area schools, ran, jumped, lifted and shuttled for NFL scouts. For most of them, this was their once-in-a-lifetime shot at pro ball, a chance to do something -- anything -- to catch somebody's attention.
No fewer than 15 NFL teams were represented at the workout, including three representatives from the New York Jets and one from the New York Giants. There were no head coaches and no TV cameras, only two dozen scouts and a smattering of well-wishers, a few with handheld video cameras. And there was the Fordham women's softball team, which practiced on the adjacent field and occasionally belted a homer onto the football field.
You can bet Cam didn't have to worry about stray fly balls during his workout.
At Auburn University, where the Heisman Trophy-winning Newton performed in his highly anticipated pro day, more than 150 scouts, coaches and personnel executives -- the most important eyes in the NFL -- turned out for the year's Gotta-Be-There workout. Maybe you saw it; after all, it was broadcast live on ESPN3.
Back in the Bronx, on a practice field outside the Vince Lombardi Center, it was akin to an "American Idol" audition -- off-the-radar hopefuls from schools such as Stony Brook, Monmouth and Wagner. One player came with DVDs, handing out his personal highlight reel to as many scouts as he could. Hey, whatever you can do.
If the NFL wannabes needed inspiration, all they had to do was look at former Fordham quarterback John Skelton, who was drafted last year by the Arizona Cardinals and wound up starting their final four games. A year ago, Skelton was the star of the school's first pro day. On this day, he came to be the quarterback for his brother, Stephen Skelton, a Fordham tight end who could slip into the late rounds of next month's draft.
"A lot of the big-school guys get the hype," the elder Skelton said. "Some deserve it and some get it because the media needs something to write about, but you see guys from the smaller schools that have talent. These are guys that no one ever heard of, but they come to something like this and it's an opportunity to get in front of an NFL scout."
Skelton threw passes to his brother, who ran a variety of pass routes under the supervision of Cardinals tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens. It was Skelton-to-Skelton, just like it used to be at their house in El Paso, Texas. Their father, John, who coached his sons in high school, got them started young, buying them Vikings and Bears kid uniforms (complete with plastic shoulder pads) when they were little boys.
"I felt like I was in our backyard," said Stephen, who finished his collegiate career with 127 receptions. "Every time I looked at John he had a big smile on his face. That made it very comfortable for me."
The brotherly game of pitch-and-catch culminated three-plus hours of testing and scrutiny. After being weighed and measured -- 6-4½, 253 pounds -- Skelton aced the bench press, hoisting 225 pounds a total of 25 times, a personal best. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.73 and 4.69 seconds, a smidge below his goal of the mid-4.6s.
Before the workout, Skelton met with scouts from the Cards, Jaguars and Falcons. There will be more meetings and more workouts in the coming weeks. By the end of a taxing day, he felt he had impressed the scouts.
"I just know I'll be playing on Sundays somewhere," he said.
With the draft, you never know -- and that goes both ways. A high draft pick from an elite conference -- let's say Vernon Gholston, formerly of the Jets -- can turn into an NFL bust, confounding the evaluators who get paid good money to make those decisions. At the same time, a player like Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin can hit it big after being undrafted out of Monmouth (N.J.) College.
Chris Hogan, a receiver from Monmouth, turned heads Tuesday. So did Fordham safety Isa Abdul Quddus. They were among the handful of players who were invited to stick around for positional drills; the others were sent home, their football careers probably over. Most of them will graduate and go to work. Thanks for coming, we'll be in touch.
Down at Auburn, Newton received generally positive reviews, reportedly showing improved accuracy with his passing. Whether he's drafted first or 15th, he will be a millionaire and, according to a recent quote by him, an entertainer and an icon.
"Let them have all the media," Stephen Skelton said of the big-school boys. "This is only one day. It really depends on what happens over the next year. There are a lot of good players that come from small schools. Just look at my brother."
Yes, look at him -- a one-in-a-thousand story. On Tuesday in the Bronx, far away from the spotlight, they were hoping for one in 28.
Far from the Cam Newton spectacle, Stephen Shelton works for NFL dream.