Following Wisconsin's Sun Bowl victory over UCLA, cornerback Jamar Fletcher began a three-month marathon toward that hat-modeling platform on draft day. Fletcher finished his junior season as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and winner of the Jim Thorpe Award (the Heisman for DBs). But when you make an early jump into the draft, there's no kicking back and waiting for the biggest payday of your life. Fletcher had to endure pro doubters who questioned his height, his speed, his readiness and his guts. Here's what he did about it.
His college playing days are behind him, but for Jamar Fletcher, there is no letting up from his midseason intensity. In fact, he's kicked it up a gear. He traded in late-night runs to McDonald's for healthier home-cooked meals. His workouts grew more serious too, as he and 12 other NFL-hopeful Badgers put in four days a week with Wisconsin strength coach John Dettman. The workouts simulated the drills draft prospects must perform for NFL scouts, from bench-pressing the standard 225 pounds to the crucial 40-yard sprint.
What Fletcher could not improve was his height (5'9"). And he couldn't work out at full speed because of a nagging quad injury. But he pushed himself, often amazing Dettman during six-hour sessions with his capacity for work and pain.
Still, at the NFL Combine and during Wisconsin's Pro Day, Fletch could only stand on the sidelines while teammates RB Michael Bennett and WR Chris Chambers wowed the scouts. "It's frustrating," said Fletcher. "But then again, I'd rather be 100%, because they're saying I'm the top corner on the boards."
Just three weeks before the draft, Fletcher got a chance to display his goods in front of reps from 25 teams who made a special trip to Madison just to see him. He was able to hide the pain, save for an occasional wince or groan. Scouts had him clocked from 4.45 to 4.53 in the 40, and measured him at a 37-inch vertical jump. Fletcher did what he could, and the guessing games stopped. Kind of.
"We watched a guy who was not in optimum condition and he was working at a disadvantage," said one NFC East scout. "The fact that he went through the whole workout not being 100%, that's positive. Playing in pain is part of football."
One AFC East scout was impressed, but concerned about Fletcher's leg, particularly when it tightened up midway through the workout. "It's taking a long time to heal for it just to be a strained quad," the scout said. "Maybe he's overworked it. With his play [in games], he's going to be a reasonably high draft choice."
Back at his apartment for a post-workout mini-celebration with friends, Fletcher was not fully satisfied, but happy the day was behind him: "Man, I'm feeling good now. All the work was worth it. It ain't about college no more."
This article appears in the April 16 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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