Bucs like their odds with junior college player
Bucs like their odds with junior college player
BY CHRIS HARRY
The Orlando Sentinel
TAMPA, Fla. - (KRT) - Joe Horn used to sit in a dump of a dormitory in Fulton, Miss., and listen to teammates gush about the money and cars they'd be rolling in once they made it to the NFL.
Big talk, given the building sat on the Itawamba Community College campus.
Horn swears he never was so bold as make assumptions about football's ultimate level.
"I made a promise to myself," Horn recalled. "I said if I ever made it to the NFL, I'd kiss the ground I was walking on."
Five years later - Sept. 15, 1996 - Horn was at the Kingdome in Seattle wearing the uniform of the Kansas City Chiefs. He walked onto the field, dropped to his knees and kept his promise.
"Everybody looked at me and thought I was crazy, but I didn't care," Horn said.
Now a four-time Pro Bowl receiver with the New Orleans Saints, Horn is among the best_and brashest - receivers in the league. But the voice of the guy who once celebrated a touchdown by pulling out a cell phone in the end zone had a measure of humility when speaking earlier this month of his unlikely trek from junior college to the NFL.
"You do me a favor and tell that guy to call me," Horn asked. "Give him my number. I want to talk to him."
No doubt, there are oodles of wisdom Horn could impart on "that guy," Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver Larry Brackins.
Brackins already has started down the road less traveled, and he did some homework before embarking on his journey.
"I wondered if I could do this," said Brackins, a fifth-round pick from Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Miss. "Then I heard the Joe Horn story."
In the past 20 years, NFL teams have drafted nine players directly from junior college. That's nine out of 5,553, or one of every 617.
Long odds, yes, but Brackins just might have the goods to become a Giacomo-like long shot when the Buccaneers report for training camp July 29 at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
"He's a freak," Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden said. "If we can train this wild horse, we may have a stallion here."
Though slowed by a nagging hamstring during last week's minicamp at One Buc Place, Brackins remained one of the most intriguing newcomers on a roster infused by youth this offseason.
After going 5-11 last season, Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen shifted into makeover mold. Armed with a league-high 12 picks (the most for the franchise since the NFL reduced the draft to seven rounds in 1994), the Bucs used eight of the selections on offensive players, including three receivers. Brackins was the 20th receiver and 155th overall player taken.
"I thought I was as good as any of them," he said.
A former prep All-American from Dothan, Ala., Brackins failed to qualify academically and wound up going to Feather River College in Quincy, Calif. He played basketball there, opting out of football because Feather River ran the option.
"I wanted to catch touchdowns," he said.
After one year, Brackins transferred to Pearl River and eventually helped the team win a version of the national JC title by catching 11 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the championship game against Butler County (Kan.) CC last fall. He also took 22 snaps that day at safety.
"I'm not sure where Pearl River is," Gruden said. "But we had the film."
By playing one year of basketball in California, then two years of football in Mississippi, Brackins met the NFL's draft eligibility standards - unlike most JC prospects who spend two years at that level - because he had been out of high school for the required three years.
Brackins has good size (6 feet 4/205) but less-than-stellar speed (4.63 in the 40). But Pearl River Coach Tim Hattan praised Brackins for his instincts, athleticism, football speed and quiet aggression when it comes to blocking.
"I just can't believe the Bucs are going to get this guy for fifth-round money," Hattan said.
That's assuming Brackins makes the team. He was good enough on the field to be hotly pursued by USC and Florida State out of junior college, but his academic transcript fell short of Division I-A standards. That left Brackins with a decision. He chose to bypass a chance at the Canadian Football League and let his JC resume speak on his behalf.
"I'm not saying he's going to be a great player. I'm saying he's got great talent," Gruden said. "He needs work. We realize his level of competition has set him back in terms of all there is to know about football. His exposure to the game is not what most of these guys have been accustomed to. But we've been impressed with him."
Junior-college prospects often deal with stereotypes - some fair, some not. They're raw. Undisciplined. Lacking top-flight coaching. There are questions about their intelligence.
"Some are farther ahead than others, but we saw him, saw that talent, and believed he was worth a chance," Bucs receivers coach Richard Mann said. "I've been down this route before with a guy."
Mann was hired as receivers coach in Kansas City in 1999. He inherited a fellow named Horn, who'd caught 18 total passes in his first three seasons after entering the NFL by way of the Canadian Football League's Memphis Mad Dogs.
"He was basically a special-teams player," Mann said. "We talked and we told him, `If you listen, we'll see if we can groom you.'
"He listened. You know the rest."
Brackins knew it, too. Horn's fairy-tale story is a source of inspiration for junior-college dreamers across the country. Brackins' quiet confidence and commitment to his task served him well. Impressive workouts in Mississippi - catching passes from Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, running routes against Minnesota cornerback Fred Smoot - got him on just about every NFL scout's watch list.
Ultimately, he landed in Tampa.
"I'm not nervous at all," he said. "I know I can do this."
His teammates have started to believe.
"You can see he has the skills," said receiver Michael Clayton, who set team records for a rookie in receptions, yards and touchdowns last season. "And physically he looks like the total package."
During one offseason workout, Brackins was working on the punt-return unit, lining up helmet-to-helmet against a gunner on the outside. As the player burst off the line, Brackins' long arms jammed him to the turf with stunning ease. The collision got the attention of coaches and teammates.
"I was like, `Go ahead, big boy!'" cornerback Juran Bolden said. "You could see he came out here with something to prove. Looked kind of familiar."
Bolden, entering his ninth NFL season, once saw that hunger when he looked in the mirror. A star at Tampa's Hillsborough High, Bolden took a path similar to Horn's. Academics sent him to Mississippi Delta Community College for two years, after which he made good on a tryout with the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers. His one season north of the border got him drafted by Atlanta in 1996.
It wasn't the conventional route. It wasn't the fun route. But it turned out to be an effective route.
"I missed out on the chance to play big-time college football - the rivalries and all - and I do regret that," Bolden said. "But you learn to appreciate things when you come from junior college. A lot of people look down on it. They say it's not developed. They say guys aren't intelligent. But it's great football, so there must be some great players."
Horn can vouch for that. He wasn't even the best player on his team at Itawamba. Duce Staley and Tim Bowens were.
"I was probably like 20th, and that's the attitude I took, that I had to fight for it all," Horn said. "Yeah, I've heard about that (Brackins) kid. If I could talk to him, I'd tell him that there's a window of opportunity that opens in life. It's like a gift. And when you go through that window, you'd better be prepared to shine. It may never be open again."
Instead of kissing an opportunity goodbye, Horn climbed through the window, dropped to his knees and kissed the NFL ground in gratitude.
If Brackins makes it, his ritual will differ only slightly.
"I'll get on my knees and start praying," he said. "And I'll thank God for just giving me the chance."
ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â© 2005, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
whata great story. too bad this guy is in our division or I would root for him, oh well!
All I know is the Bucs are the Saints prostitutes. The Saints pimp the Bucs. Even though the Bucs have only been in our division for a little while they still have not sweeped the Saints. If the Bucs beat the Saints one game I take the Saints straight up over the Bucs bet 500.00 win 1,000 each time. I only bet the spread if the are picked to win or lose bye 3. The thing is it is funny the bookies always pick the Saints to lose to the Bucs even when the Bucs were on a 3 game losing streak in 2003. Are the bookies aware that the Bucs have never sweeped the Saints. The Saints sweeped the Bucs the year the year the Bucs won the superbowl. The superbowl was in 2003 the Saints sweeped the Bucs in 2002. This really gets to me we could of been world champions possiblythat year if we could of got to the playoffs. Thing is New Orleans has not beat Philly since 91 when Cunningham was qb for the Eagles.
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