Back in 2009 when the Baltimore Ravens drafted cornerback Lardarius Webb in the third round (88th overall pick) out of a small Louisiana school (Nicholls State), I must admit that my initial knee-jerk reaction was, “Here we go again!”
Just three years prior during the 2006 NFL Draft the Ravens selected cornerback David Pittman in the third round (87th overall pick) out of another small Louisiana school (Northwestern State).
Pittman never played a down his rookie season with the Ravens and in 2007 he didn’t exactly distinguish himself posting 10 tackles and 2 interceptions in 7 games. Pittman would go on to some very brief stints with the Saints, Texans and Steelers. He also floundered around with the New York Sentinels of the United Football League, the Hartford Colonials, and the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League.
He was released by the Stampeders on June 23, 2012.
Choosing players from a small school has its own unique set of challenges. These players are used to the “Big Man on Campus” treatment. They are used to being standouts – stars. Many times they haven’t faced the talents common to the big schools. The competition and speed of Division I football programs is much more advanced and even those players at times find the adjustment to the speed of the NFL to be borderline shocking.
The adjustment for Pittman to the NFL was akin to driving at Daytona when your only experiences behind the wheel were trips to the corner store in rural Louisiana.
But that wasn’t the only problem for Pittman.
Coaches can help a player with natural talent overcome the adjustment to speed. So too can a player’s teammates. They can share their experiences and help flatten the learning curve for talents like Pittman. However in order to be the beneficiary of these morsels of wisdom, the young players have to first earn the respect of their elder peers.
Pittman never did.
A story was once shared with me about Pittman during his formative days with the Ravens.
As is usually the case with rookies, the vets will subject the newcomers to some embarrassing albeit good-natured hazing. During training camp Pittman was told to carry dinner from the team’s cafeteria line to the tables where the vets were seated.
“Carry the chicken!”
And in doing so Pittman was ostracized. He never tapped into that pipeline of veteran wisdom. By not playing along with one silly little training camp prank Pittman set a negative tone with his teammates – one that he could not cure given his limited leadership skills and wounded self-esteem.
So when the Ravens turned the card in for Webb I asked Ravens Assistant General Manager (then Director of College Personnel), “Why another 3rd round corner from a small school?”
DeCosta replied simply, “Trust me, this kid is different.”
Clearly he was right.
There is no denying Webb’s athleticism. But what he also brings is a toughness that belies his physique and a work ethic that can’t be taught. That’s something that comes from within and it’s that quality of Webb’s that inspired DeCosta’s simple response.
Clearly the Ravens knew something about this former Colonel from Nicholls State.
During the scouting process the team learned how Webb maintained hope and embraced ambition to hopefully lift his family from impoverished conditions that most of us can’t even fathom; from ugly societal illnesses that we scorn. The Ravens knew that this small school player could stare adversity in the face and conquer it. He could do what Pittman couldn’t.
Webb’s athleticism combined with his determination and willingness to embrace coaching eventually helped him land a fat 5-year, $50 million contract. But that hasn’t influenced him to dial it back. If anything Webb is working harder.
He’s more engaged than ever in the community.
His workouts are more focused driven by new and even greater aspirations.
And now he’s a leader on a team that really didn’t need him to be one.
This kid is different.
And probably somewhere along the line he did something else that Pittman refused to do – carry the chicken!