- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN Staff Writer
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The first thing you have to know about Troy University cornerback
Leodis McKelvin is that he loves selling himself.
He went to the Senior Bowl looking to make a name. He has shown up at the NFL scouting combine eager to do anything that will raise his already soaring draft stock. His personal workout is still two weeks away and he already is eagerly awaiting his chance to showcase his skills there.
This attitude is what makes McKelvin the kind of first-round talent coaches and general manager can bank on. In fact, you can be assured that McKelvin will keep scouts buzzing about his potential once he finishes here. He won't even run the 40-yard dash until Tuesday, but the mere fact that he has come with the intention of competing already says plenty about his ability.
"I know what I'm capable of," McKelvin said. "Now I just have to go out and prove it to everybody else."
McKelvin has the right approach to a combine that seems to become a more overhyped event with each passing offseason. Every year, there are some high-profile prospects who think it's just too risky to compete in this environment. They come to get weighed and measured and to chat in interview sessions with coaches and executives. But when it comes to physical activity, far too many first-round talents often decide to stand on the sideline, believing it's best to stand pat instead of going all-in.
McKelvin obviously won't have a problem with that. Most scouts project him as one of the top two cornerbacks in this class (along with South Florida's
Michael Jenkins), and that means he's good enough to take a pass on this week's physical tests as well.
But that isn't how McKelvin operates. The man has been fighting for opportunities since he entered the world of college football. He's not about to start thinking his future is guaranteed now, even though his ability indicates he'll be an impact player at the next level.
He has tremendous speed and a willingness to tackle. The 5-foot, 11-inch, 190-pounder is so talented that he was able to hold former Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the second pick in last year's draft, to two receptions for 9 yards in a 2006 game.
"I figured if he could go that high, I could definitely play in the league," McKelvin said.
McKelvin can dominate as a punt and kick returner. He tied an NCAA Division I-A record with eight kicks returned for touchdowns in his college career and broke another mark with 3,817 career kick-return yards.
However, numbers like those tell only half of McKelvin's story. He landed at Troy because academic problems scared off bigger programs when he was graduating from Ware County (Ga.) High School in 2004. Georgia liked him, but the Bulldogs never offered a scholarship. Georgia Tech said it would take him if he raised his SAT scores, but the school never followed up.
So McKelvin found Troy to be the only place that had faith in him, and he dedicated himself to making sure the Trojans didn't regret the move.
What's most impressive about McKelvin is that he hasn't forgotten that feeling of being dismissed because of his academic shortcomings. Instead of dropping out of school to train for the combine and his personal workout, he continues to work on the 14 hours he has left to complete his degree in sports medicine.
New York Giants
In order to prepare for his pre-draft workouts, he trains with the same strength and conditioning coaches who watched him blossom into a star at Troy.
"I know I can run and I know I can jump," McKelvin said. "Besides, I saw [former Troy standout and Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl linebacker] DeMarcus Ware do the same thing when he was here. I didn't see any reason to do something different."
Nobody knew much about those players before it came time for them to be drafted. Now it's hard to have a discussion about the NFL's most dominant defenders without including them in the conversation. That's exactly the kind of impact McKelvin hopes to have once he gets his shot at playing in the league.
McKelvin has phone numbers for Ware and Umenyiora, but he hasn't had much time to chat lately. His sole focus is on what he has to do before this draft, and he stresses that the increased scrutiny only makes him better.
"Pressure isn't a problem for me," McKelvin said. "I love being at the combine and seeing the other top corners here because we can find out who's the best. I went to the Senior Bowl for the same reason. Of course, some people came and some people didn't."
That last remark was McKelvin's way of saying he's never going to be confused with a guy who won't deliver. Whenever he has had opportunities, he has made the most of them, which is exactly why he's feeling so confident these days.
He has spent the past four years of his life waiting for the shot to show he's one of the best pro football prospects in the country. And he's determined to keep reminding people of that fact until he hears his name called on draft day.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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