Stars think high schoolers are too young

Updated: February 13, 2004, 11:04 AM ET
By Peter Lawrence-Riddell | ESPN.com

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- The decision Thursday by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin that ruled Maurice Clarett eligible for the upcoming NFL draft drew mixed reactions from players and former players gathered at the Ihilani Resort for Thursday's Pro Bowl practice.

"I think it's wrong," said former Redskins quarterback and current ESPN analyst Joe Theismann. "To me it's a little like the courts of the United States not understanding the world that they're ruling in and that they're just going by the letter of the law."

But the feeling was much different among some players.

"Good luck to him. I honestly don't think it's that big a deal," said Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. "This is America. So good for him and anybody else that wants to enjoy the free country that we live in.

"These kids are sick of getting $10 per diem for every road trip when you play Division I college football -- it's a joke. So I don't blame them one bit. I remember having to scrounge quarters to do laundry when the NCAA and everybody else are making tons of money on the game that you play. Yeah, you're getting a free education, but for some of these big-time players, you deserve more."

Minnesota Vikings safety Corey Chavous, who is at the Pro Bowl for the first time, said it gives kids another option to consider, similar to the options afforded basketball players.

"I think it definitely will change the complexion of the way guys are looked at now when they have a good freshman season in college. Now you've opened up the same situation that you have in basketball. So, really what I think it does in the long run is give kids the flexibility to make the decision to come out if they think they're ready after either year one or year two in college."

One thing former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis thinks could work in Clarett's favor is the position that he plays.

"Running back is probably one of the few positions where the learning curve is fairly short," said Davis, who is in Hawaii covering the Pro Bowl for the NFL Network. "Running back is one of the true positions that if you're talented, you're talented. And this guy is gifted -- I think he'd fare well."

But while the simple question is how Clarett as an individual will fare in the NFL, the larger question is whether an influx of young players will hurt the NFL? If other college players follow in Clarett's footsteps, and it's certainly going to happen, what impact will that have?

"Nobody wants to see a situation like the NBA, where the NFL becomes real young," said Davis. "You'll have kids who are being told that they can make it in this league and that are being pushed out of college and into the pros.

"I don't like that situation and hopefully it won't get like that. The NFL has one thing that it sells and that is its product. (It) wants to keep that product intact so that it's not being watered down and diluted with college players or players trying to hop from high school to the pros."

While diluting the talent pool with players who aren't ready to compete is obviously a concern, the opinion among most of the players was that the NFL wouldn't feel much of a negative impact on the field. The NFL always has been a cutthroat league. If you're not good enough to play, you don't get on the field, and in most cases, you don't have a job.

"It doesn't hurt the NFL, because the NFL will handle (its) business like (it) always (does)," said New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. "The kids are the ones who are going to get hurt, because the kids are the ones who will be out of a job if they don't pan out and the NFL will just keep going."

For Thiesmann, the biggest issue isn't how the decision will affect the NFL:

"What it really is going to hurt is college football. This judge has no idea the damage that she has done to college football. Now all of a sudden, how do you recruit as a collegiate coach and build a program when you can start losing freshmen?

"If you're this judge, why don't you just go and destroy collegiate football completely?"

Of course, the next issue will be players following the lead of NBA stars like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and jumping from high school straight to the NFL. While the opinions were mixed on a 20-year-old like Clarett entering the draft, they were almost universal that the NFL is no place for a kid to come straight out of high school.

"Everybody talks about the success of Kobe and LeBron and Garnett and those guys in the NBA, but for every one of them, there's probably two guys that didn't make it, and now what are they doing?" Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna told The Associated Press. "I'm all for guys going to get as much money as they can. I'm concerned for the people that don't have good people around them" for advice.

Others more specifically referenced the physical disadvantage high schoolers would face.

"It's not going to happen," said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. "I was 195 pounds my senior year in high school. I would have got broken in half if I'd have even tried to step on the field."

"These high school kids will get killed," added Theismann. "These guys in the NFL are men. You're talking about boys trying to play with men. I don't care if you're a 314-pound senior in high school, you're going to get your ever-loving (butt) handed to you if you try to play with men."

The NFL plans to appeal Thursday's decision, but for the time being, the NFL draft is open to Clarett and others like him who previously would have had to wait until they were three years out of high school.

"People's argument will be that the players coming out are not physically mature enough," said Chavous. "But that's the same argument they made about high school players in the NBA and they're doing pretty well."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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