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'Busting' out all over as NFL draft approaches

Published: April 23, 2013
by Jim Corbett, USA Today Sports | Original Article

The NFL is rife with very high draft picks who just never panned out in the league.

SAN DIEGO – In three NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders, quarterback JaMarcus Russell went 7-18 as a starter, with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

His immaturity, and what Pro Bowl tutor Jeff Garcia calls "a negative Raiders ecosystem," led to Russell walking away from the game -- with $39 million from being the overall No. 1 pick of the 2007 NFL draft.

But Akili Smith knows what drove Russell, now 27, back from the depths of unmet expectations, self-inflicted wounds and forever being linked to epic failure on the internet.

Thirty minutes south of the high school where Russell works out alongside Garcia for a return to the NFL, Smith, 37, prepares for his second season as St. Augustine High quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator in San Diego. If he were still in his twenties, as Russell is, Smith insists he would embrace and respect the game -- and this time wouldn't toss away a career on nightlife.

The Cincinnati Bengals chose Smith with the third overall draft pick in 1999, benched him by 2000 and released him after the 2002 season. The numbers aren't pretty: 17 starts in four years, a 3-14 record, five touchdowns and 13 interceptions. When the Bengals sent him packing, no team would take a chance on him.

He was a bust.

"It burned at me for five, six years when people said I was a bust," Smith said. "It hurt that there's so many articles on Google about you when you've been the best since Pop Warner. Then, after 17 NFL games, you're one of the worst football players who ever walked this earth.

Akili Smith
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Akili Smith was all smiles during practice in July 2002. But by the end of the season he would be out of the NFL, after only four years for the third overall pick of the 1999 draft.
(Photo: Al Behrman, AP)

"I turned to partying to turn away from all the negativity, and the partying wound up costing me my career."

Type the words "NFL all-time busts" into a search engine, and the same names pop up -- Russell, Smith, quarterbacks Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Cade McNown and David Carr, wide receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, defensive end Courtney Brown and others. The order changes, depending on who's ranking them. The label, once applied, sticks forever.

Thursday, 32 players will be chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. After months of workouts, private and public, and hundreds of hours of personal interviews, after digging into backgrounds and checking Facebook and Twitter accounts, teams will invest a first-round pick on the player they believe to be a sure-fire NFL star.

But it doesn't always work out. Sometimes, the scouts and NFL executives are dead wrong.

The Bengals were on Smith. The Raiders were on Russell. Smith knows what it's like to carry the label and roots hard for Russell to escape the despair that nearly swallowed Smith's life.

"Because I really wish I had a chance to play this game again," Smith said. "If I did, I would be watching film and training all day."

Joel Fish, who is director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia and has worked with pro athletes for 20 years, knows why the label hurts so much.

"I had a player once tell me that word 'bust,' and that reputation of being a bust, was a ball and chain that he was wearing around his neck," the sports psychologist said. "My whole work with him was just to help him find ways to remove that 'ball and chain.'

"We all have pride and want people to think well of us. ... That's why it takes such courage for these guys to put themselves out there -- because they're always one moment away from being labeled in a negative way. So then that challenge becomes how to get that ball and chain off their neck."

A weighty issue with Russell

Weight was always an issue with Russell, who just two months ago came in at roughly 315 pounds. Now, he says he's at 276.

His easy smile seems to demonstrate that if he hasn't taken all of the weight off, he has jettisoned some of the emotional baggage of a failed career.

Why was he a bust?

"I blame myself," Russell said. "I could have given football more. I could have done more as a professional. There just could have been more film room, more classroom. I could have kept my weight down to become an overall better player.

"There's a lot that comes with that No. 1 pick. No matter what, you have to be willing to take it. I wasn't putting out No. 1 results. This time around, I plan on coming back with a vengeance, showing what could have been."

Brian Martin, TEST Football Academy CEO, convinced Russell to attempt a comeback in San Diego, working with former NFL conditioning coach Jeff Hurd and Garcia, who spent the 2009 Raiders training camp with Russell.

Russell never came close to realizing late owner Al Davis' vision of John Elway in silver and black -- and the team unsuccessfully tried to sue Russell to reclaim some of the money paid to him.

His legacy? A rookie wage scale, implemented in 2011, that mitigates the financial damage for whiffing on a top draft pick. And in 2011, when rookie quarterback Terrelle Pryor asked to wear No. 2 -- Russell's former number -- the superstitious Raiders refused to allow it.

Hoping to escape a football-less prison of his own making, Russell has worked six days a week to become what he wasn't -- a fiery field general in the image of four-time Pro Bowler Garcia. Russell is grateful the aspiring quarterback guru threw him a lifeline.

"Now that I know what to do, I can bring a lot as a leader," Russell said. "It's about getting into the right situation with a coach who would love to teach me to be that quarterback. ... When I'm taught the correct way, I can really play at a high level. Being away from it, that's when you find out the love you really have for football."

Garcia ran twice weekly, training-camp intense throwing sessions for Russell and a dozen players. He hopes his urgent tempo and quest for every-snap perfection rubbed off. But, then again, Russell's raw talent was never an issue the first time around. His work ethic and appetite were, and teams appear wary that he has the discipline to keep his head in the playbook and out of the refrigerator.

"I definitely would vouch for him. JaMarcus doesn't want to be remembered as the bust," Garcia said. "Here's an opportunity to turn the whole perception around as to who he is. He's definitely transformed himself.

"There's a sense of embarrassment from a physical and emotional standpoint. Physically, he let himself get to a place where he should have never been. It's about how you rebound and turn your life around. If a team gives him a chance, he doesn't want to let them or himself down."

But there are other questions, too: Russell was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, a drink containing codeine syrup, when Mobile, Ala., police raided his home in July 2010. A grand jury declined to indict Russell, who pleaded not guilty. A friend, Marcus Stevenson, was charged after Stevenson testified the codeine-laced drink was his.

"That's over and done with, in the past," Russell said.

But for Russell, nothing will be in the past until he creates a new present.

Second chances can work

Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes sat in the otherwise empty Cathedral Catholic High bleachers alongside his son, Tate, an eighth-grade quarterback mesmerized by Russell's impressive mock pro day. Russell roped freakish, zip-line spirals, flicking a couple of effortless, 65-yard touchdown strikes.

"Unbelievable. I've never seen anyone throw a football like that," said Haynes, who spent the latter half of his 14-year NFL career with the Raiders. "Maybe he's ready now. If I were a team, I'd give him a shot."

But second chances are rare once a player has been labeled a bust, especially for a lack of discipline and commitment.

Quarterback Kerry Collins, who retired after the 2011 season, was the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft. He lasted 17 years and played with six teams. But his career almost ended after four seasons.

Kerry Collins
Quarterback Kerry Collins led the New York Giants to the Super Bowl in January 2001 vs. the Baltimore Ravens who won.
Photo: USA TODAY Sports

Collins used a racial slur, he claimed in jest, with black Carolina Panthers teammates during a night of drinking during training camp in 1997. He was later accused of quitting on his team when he requested a trade.

New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi took a shot on Collins and signed him to a four-year, $17 million contract. Critics thought Accorsi had lost his mind by investing in a drunken, racist, emotionally fragile bust.

"When we gave Kerry Collins a second chance in 1999, no one else would touch him," former Giants head coach Jim Fassel said.

Fassel helped Collins turn his life around, and Collins repaid the Giants' faith by leading them to Super Bowl XXXV (ending in a championship for the Baltimore Ravens). Collins' career far exceeded what anyone would have predicted when he checked himself into alcohol rehabilitation in 1999.

"I gave Kerry 100 chances to blame others," Fassel said. "He took full accountability. I'm as proud of Kerry as any player I've coached. Guys can change. It's up to them."

Must set aside personal problems

Russell lost his father figure, uncle Ray Russell, in 2009. His grandmother, Bernice Russell, was diagnosed in 2011 with breast cancer.

"I tried to come back in 2010, but couldn't lose the weight," Russell said. "There were life situations I had to deal with before I could put everything into working out and getting better."

Bernice Russell, 71, has been in remission more than a year, inspiring a grandson committed to recasting himself.

"He's come a long way," Martin said. "He's made a commitment, not just to football but life. His self-confidence is way up from two months ago. We're hoping a team will bring him in soon and capitalize."

Will someone gamble given a draft lacking a sure-fire quarterback?

"He'll get another shot," Ravens assistant GM Eric DeCosta said. "The guy throws the ball better than most quarterbacks. He played at a high level in college. Guys have had second shots and really benefited. If he works hard and rededicates himself, his future is very bright."

Smith knows what Russell needs in what's likely to be his last chance. He won't be able to completely shed the bust label, but he might get an opportunity to add a positive footnote or two.

"JaMarcus has to go to a strong organization where veteran leaders will put him in a headlock and say, 'You've got another opportunity. We're not going to let you blow it,' " Smith said. "JaMarcus fell into the same stuff I did. He wants to rectify and prove he's worthy of the first overall pick."

When told about Smith's comments, Russell nodded.

"I'm almost there," he said. "I've got to keep fighting. This time, I want to leave a better mark on this game."

And if he doesn't get the chance, Fish holds out hope that Russell and Smith -- and past and future draft busts -- won't wallow in their shortcomings or allow bloggers to dictate their self-worth.

"To me, it's how much of the player's identity is wrapped up in being the athlete," Fish said. "That, to me, is a crucial factor that determines how devastating being labeled as a failure or a bust will ultimately be."

Some of the more prominent draft "busts" over the last 15 years:

Ryan Leaf & Peyton Manning
Quarterbacks Ryan Leaf of Washington State, left, and Peyton Manning, of Tennessee, are introduced at the start of the 1998 NFL Draft. Manning was taken as the overall No. 1 pick, by the Indianapolis Colts, and Leaf the second overall pick, by the San Diego Chargers. Only one of them went on to a successful NFL career. Guess who?
(Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP)

QB Ryan Leaf — Was the second overall pick of the 1998 draft, by the San Diego Chargers. Played from 1998-2001. Had 14 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions, going 4-17 as a starter. He played for two teams, his last year with the Dallas Cowboys.

QB Tim Couch — Was the first overall pick of the 1999 draft, by the Cleveland browns. Played from 1999-2003. Had 64 touchdown passes and 65 interceptions, going 22-37 as a starter. His career was all with the Browns.

QB Cade McNown — Was the 12th overall pick of the 1999 draft, by the Chicago Bears. Played from 1999-2000. Had 16 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions, going 3-12 as a starter. His career was all with the Bears.

QB David Carr — Was the first overall pick of the 2002 draft. Played from 2002-2012. Had 65 touchdown passes and 71 interceptions, going 23-56 as a starter. He played for four teams, his last year with the New York Giants.

WR Charles Rogers — Was the 2nd overall pick of the 2003 draft, by the Detroit Lions. Played from 2003-2005. Had 36 receptions, with four touchdowns. His career was all with the Lions.

WR Mike Williams — Was the 10th overall pick of the 2005 draft, by the Detroit Lions. Played from 2005-2011. Had 127 receptions, with five touchdowns. He played for four teams, his last with the Seattle Seahawks.

DE Courtney Brown — Was the first overall pick of the 2000 draft, by the Cleveland Browns. Played from 2000-2005. Had 156 tackles, with 19 sacks. He played for two teams, his last year with the Denver Broncos.

By Rachel Shuster, USA TODAY Sports


Comeback 2013: JaMarcus Russell's Road Back to the NFL, Episode 1

Published: February 12, 2013 by Aaron Nagler | Original Article

"I'm here to grind."

Those are the words of JaMarcus Russell as he begins his journey trying to get back in the NFL.

In our first full episode following Russell's attempted comeback, we meet some of the the people who will be helping try to make this dream a reality. From Brian Martin, the founder and CEO of the TEST Football Academy, to the Academy's nutritionist, Alex Fioroni, we also talk to Jeff Garcia and former Olympian Ato Boldon, all of whom will be working with Russell.

Of course, as impressive as this group is, none of them matter much if JaMarcus isn't committed 100 percent to getting back into shape (his current weight might shock you).

This is our first full episode following Russell's bid to get back into the NFL. Let us know in the comments below which teams you think might be keeping an eye on Russell and if you think his comeback bid will end up a success.


My Fox: TEST Football Academy in NJ

Published: February 10, 2013 | Original Post

NEW JERSEY (MYFOXNY.COM) - Duke Castiglione made a visit to Test Football Academy in Martinsville, New Jersey where they're preparing college players for the upcoming NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Duke also attempted to break six seconds in the 40-yard dash.


2013 Youth / High School Football Academy Registration Now Open

Former NFL & CFL Professional Players are back with the TEST Sports Performance Staff for the most important 8 weeks of preparation of the year!

Please click the following links for registration forms:

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Check Out Eddie's Triple B Specialty Class in Action


Join us for the First Annual Mane Stream 5k

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Field Rental Special

Autism Awareness Month & Be a Hero Charity Events

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F.L.I.P. – FAT LOSS IN PROGRESS

12-Week Team & Individual Weight Loss Challenge

WHEN: Monday, March 5th – Wednesday, May 23rd

WHERE: TEST Sports Club, Martinsville, NJ

HOW TO REGISTER: No later than March.7th Register at the Front Desk or call (732) 271-1000. Questions? Ask for Eddie.

REGISTRATION FEE: $149: $50 will be put into a “pot” for prizes OR $50 with $25 in pot.

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Parisi Speed School and TEST Sports Clubs Combine Expertise for NFL Combine Training

Published: November 15, 2011, Wyckoff, New Jersey

Parisi Speed School and TEST Sports Combine today announced that they will combine their proven NFL Combine expertise to deliver 2011-2012 NFL Combine training programs. With the top three official 40s times in the 2011 NFL Combine, and a Pro-Bowl lineup of specialize position coaches, this partnership is the pathways to the pros for aspiring NFL players.

Parisi Speed School and TEST Football Academy today announced that they will combine their proven NFL Combine expertise to deliver 2012 NFL Combine training programs. With the top three official 40s times in the 2011 NFL Combine, and a Pro-Bowl lineup of specialized position specific coaches, this partnership is the pathway to the pros for aspiring NFL players. The TEST-Parisi NFL Combine Training Program has collectively 20 years of experience and 192 draft picks yielding an unparalleled training experience. The TEST-Parisi NFL Combine Training will run out of facilities in South Florida, and two Jersey Strong Flagship locations in at Parisi Speed School in Fair Lawn, and TEST Sports Clubs in Martinsville, New Jersey.

The NFL Combine Coaching Teams include specialized position coaches, Strength and conditioning and Speed Coaches, Physicians, Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, Sports Psychologists, and Nutritionists. A stellar lineup of NFL Training Coaches includes names such as: Chad Pennington (QB Coach – FL Jets / Dolphins), Scott Brunner (Offensive Coordinator NJ & FL Giants) Ato Boldon (4 X Olympic Sprint Medalist), Skip Fuller (Performance Director Martinsville, NJ - Miami Dolphins), Geir Gudmundsen (Performance Director Fair Lawn, NJ Buffalo Bills – OL Coach) Rich Sadiv (World Champion Power Lifter - Fair Lawn, NJ), Jevon Kearse (ProBowl ) Billy Ard (All Century Team & Superbowl champ - Giants), Eric Dorsey (2X Super Bowl Champ – DL Coach) and Will Shields (Kansas City Chiefs, 12 time Pro Bowler).

The TEST-Parisi NFL Combine and Pro Training programs, which have a client list of NFL Players such as: Joe Flacco, Chris Long, Patrick Peterson, Cliff Avril, Ray Rice, Lawrence Sidbury, Mark Sanchez and Buster Skrine, train their athletes to increase speed, agility, strength, develop position prowess, accent psychological preparation for the NFL Combine, and work with their agents to position athletes for NFL success.

TEST Sports Clubs has also joined the Parisi Speed School Network by implementing a Parisi franchise inside its 24,000 sq ft state of the art facility in Martinsville, NJ. This will be the 10th location in NJ for the Parisi Speed School franchise with over 70 locations across the country. With the Parisi Speed School offering a laser focus on the youth development market and TEST Sports focus on elite and Pro Sports Academies with specific focus on Football, this partnership brings two incredible brands together to offer the most comprehensive athletic development programs in the country.

Further information on this exciting combination for NFL Combine Training can be obtained by visiting TESTfootballacademy.com, emailing Geir@TESTfootballacademy.com or by calling (732) 271-1000 Ext. 240.