State players hope for NFL chance
By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — It didn't take four years and All-America honors for Hugh Nall to deem Ben Grubbs a potential NFL first-round talent.
Nall, Auburn's offensive line coach, got that feeling "when I saw him on high school film," impressed by his size and athleticism.
Grubbs is regarded as the strongest candidate from an Alabama college to be chosen in the NFL draft's first round on Saturday.
Overshadowing him will be two Alabamians who played college ball outside the state.
The only surefire first-rounders from the state are quarterback JaMarcus Russell, a Mobile native who played for LSU, and Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye out of Huntsville. Both are expected to be among the first 10 players chosen and Russell is the favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Raiders.
The state hasn't produced the draft's top choice since Montgomery's Aundray Bruce went first in 1988 out of Auburn.
Russell spurned both Auburn and Alabama out of Mobile's Williamson High to attend LSU. Still only 19, Okoye played for Lee-Huntsville.
The draft fortunes of the prospects from state programs seem far less certain.
Grubbs is regarded as one of the top guards available in the draft. Mock drafts project him as either a late first-rounder or second-rounder.
He played both defensive line and tight end for the Tigers, but started his last 38 games on the line and was a second-team Associated Press All-American last season.
Grubbs planned to watch the draft from his Eclectic home, and Nall praises his personality and character as much as his athletic ability.
"He's a great person. He's a smart kid," Nall said. "He treats everybody with respect and does what he's supposed to do when he's supposed to do it. In three years of coaching him, I probably didn't hear him say 90 words.
"He's just a model person and he turned out to be a good football player for us."
Tennessee's Arron Sears, a Russellville native, is also one of the top-rated guards.
Several other players from the state are hoping to be taken Saturday.
Auburn tailback Kenny Irons is rated as high as the No. 3 tailback in the draft by NFL.com, and is projected as a probable second-rounder. His cornerback brother, David, also believes his name will be called Saturday, but neither professed any certainty about their status.
"I have no idea," Kenny said. "It's a toss-up right now. Nobody knows where they're going to go."
Added David: "I honestly don't have a clue."
Auburn's other starting guard, Tim Duckworth, is also a potential first-day pick. Wide receiver Courtney Taylor is expected to be chosen Sunday.
Alabama tailback Kenneth Darby is widely projected as a third-round pick. His lead blocker, fullback Le'Ron McClain, is rated as one of the top two fullbacks in the draft.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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