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Former Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson, an Austin High graduate, figures an NFL team could draft him as early as the fourth or fifth round this weekend.
Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Former Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson, an Austin High graduate, figures an NFL team could draft him as early as the fourth or fifth round this weekend.

Draft day for Simpson
Ex-Austin High standout
waits for call from NFL team

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

The night was Dec. 28. Following Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson's final collegiate football game, a 34-31 loss to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl, the Austin High grad walked off the field, head down, looking at the turf.

In the media room after the game, his eyes were red, face streaked with sweat and tears.

On Saturday or Sunday, Simpson will move from that disappointing moment to a new chapter in his life. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Simpson is expected to go early the second day of the NFL draft. The first day will cover the first three rounds, while the second day will include the remaining four.

The draft will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday. Simpson plans to watch the draft from his mother's home in Decatur.

"You look back and remember all the high school days and college days," Simpson said. "You are here and have an opportunity. It's real. And I don't think it's going to hit me when my name is called."

Immediately after the Independence Bowl, Simpson flew to Arizona where he underwent rigorous training to get ready for the various scouting combines.

Throughout his career, most of the drills he did were specifically for football-related game situations. This was a little different, however.

He did shuttle runs, 40-yard dashes, bench pressing and vertical leaping.

It was an exhausting experience for Simpson.

"It was all or none," Simpson said. "If you're not able to finish that last set, you didn't get a good workout in the way they look at it. You want to call it quits, but you have to dig down deep."

Since then, Simpson has shuttled back and forth between Decatur and Tuscaloosa, working out at Alabama, Austin High or a local gym.

He participated in Alabama's pro-day March 21, as well as the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 26.

ESPN.com has Simpson rated as the 16th best outside linebacker in the draft and 181st overall. Sports Illustrated's Web site has Simpson going in the early fifth round.

For Simpson's strengths, ESPN lists that he has good cover skills and speed for a linebacker and gave him a scouting grade of 53 out of 100. This rates him as an adequate prospect.

According to the site, the areas of concern are size — something that Simpson is working on — and character, stemming from last off season's arrests for having a handgun without a permit and marijuana possession.

Whatever teams want to think about Simpson, he said he knows he only can control his destiny with his own hard work. The draft is the first step toward what he hopes he can turn into a long and prosperous NFL career.

"You can get caught up in what round are you going but it's about how long you can last," Simpson said.

"The No. 1 pick is special, but it's what are you going to do with it. This is what I call start-up money, but that money can be gone in the snap of a finger. You have to maintain and be successful."

The Juwan Simpson file

Height/weight:6-foot-3, 225 pounds.

Shuttle run:11.78 seconds.

Broad jump:4.55 seconds.

On whether he would take former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell or Notre Dame's Brady Quinn:"I'd have to say JaMarcus. I've played against that guy. He's a tremendous athlete. Even on defense, he's 6-7, 260, and I'm like 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. I'm like, 'What am I going to do this guys when I get to him?' "

- NFL.com and Josh Cooper

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