Darrius Heyward-Bey's reputation preceded him this week in Indianapolis, where the NFL scouting combine will mint fresh millionaires and unmask impostors for its April draft.
Scouts already know Maryland's mercurial wide receiver is lightning in a bottle, a touchdown waiting to happen, that he has tantalizing size, long arms and extraordinary athleticism.
What they don't know - at least yet - is how his unique combination of skills will translate in the NFL. But early draft projections have him taken in the first round or, at worst, at the top of the second.
Mike Mayock, a draft analyst for the NFL Network, is among those intrigued with Heyward-Bey's talent. When he watches tapes, Mayock sees the explosiveness that generated eight plays of 50 or more yards in three seasons at Maryland.
"You look at his combination of height, weight and speed, and you want to believe he's a top10 pick," Mayock said. "At other times, it doesn't look like he catches the ball naturally.
"I feel like I need to do more [film study] on him. Watching him makes me want to know more about him."
The combine is a giant job fair for college players heading into the draft April25 and 26. More than 300 will audition at Lucas Oil Stadium over the next week with timed runs of the 40-yard dash, medical examinations and assorted team interviews.
At 6 feet 3 and 206 pounds, Heyward-Bey has already run a 4.23-second 40-yard dash (2006, at College Park). In 38 games for the Terps, he had 138 catches, averaging 15.1 yards. He had 34 catches of at least 20 yards.
Coach Ralph Friedgen gave Heyward-Bey his blessing in early January when the soon-to-be 22-year-old decided to forgo his senior year at Maryland for the NFL.
"If he runs a slow time [at Indianapolis], he'll still be faster than most of the guys running," Friedgen said. "He never ran slower than 4.2 for me. And it doesn't look like he's running [hard]."
Heyward-Bey was a world-class sprinter at McDonogh, where he ran track, played basketball and debuted in football as a freshman. In fact, football was the only sport he didn't play growing up in Silver Spring, where he was a basketball prodigy of some renown.
But Dom D'Amico, McDonogh's football coach, could see the long-term potential in Heyward-Bey, even if he was uncomfortable in pads at first.
"He was as raw as you could get," D'Amico said. "But you always saw something special in him. ... His speed is NFL-caliber. His demeanor and how hard he works, those are the things that make you want to help him develop. You can't get a kid with better character."
Heyward-Bey's speed, if not his ultimate career direction, was evident from the beginning. By the end of his junior year at McDonogh, he decided football was his destination, even though he was a first-team All-American in track in the indoor 60 meters.
"Looking at the facts, I probably should've gone to [college] for track," he said. "But I'm one of those guys who is very confident in himself. I knew in any situation I would be in, I was going to work hard to become the best."
He chose Maryland and football over LSU, track and the Olympics. Redshirted his freshman year, he served notice he was a player to watch in 2006 when he caught touchdown passes of 96 and 65 yards in a 14-13 victory over Miami.
What followed the next two years was a montage of big plays. As a sophomore in 2007, he had catches of 63 and 47 yards, runs of 54 and 37. As a junior, he had three receptions of 60 yards or more. And he gained 76 yards on an end-around at Clemson to inspire a Maryland upset.
But in the same game at Clemson, he was shut out as a receiver. A week later, the same thing. He was less consistent as a junior than he had been as a sophomore, partly because he was double-teamed regularly.
NFL scouting combine