By Ken Murray | firstname.lastname@example.org
March 26, 2009
"Ooohhh, just woke up, early in the morning," he says. "It's about 7 o'clock, about to go to Northern Virginia, go to this signing expo. Should be pretty fun. See some fans, and [I] think some of the Steelers are going to be there. So, got to go brush my teeth."
In the next instant, the video shows the fastest man in this year's NFL draft seated at a table in the Dulles Expo and Conference Center in Chantilly, Va. He is signing action photos from his just-concluded Maryland career, posing for pictures with kids big and small, and he is engaged and engaging. When one fan suggests he can outrun Heyward-Bey, laughter rings the table.
Welcome to Heyward-Bey's ever-expanding world. When the Silver Spring native, 22, isn't putting his best foot forward for NFL scouts, he's putting his personality out front for public perception. In a marketing effort designed to enhance his image going into the NFL, Heyward-Bey is popping up in some unusual places.
He's on a Website, Imatopprospect.com, that follows six prominent former college players, including defensive end Aaron Maybin of Penn State and Mount Hebron, through weekly blogs and videos on the road to the April 25-26 draft.
He was on ESPN First Take the day after he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3seconds at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, tying for the second-fastest 40 of the decade (run by the Ravens' Yamon Figurs).
He participated in an autograph show Sunday in Chantilly, along with a host of former ( Bart Starr, Jerome Bettis) and current NFL stars ( James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley), plus Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
On Tuesday, Heyward-Bey went to New York with four other prospective first-round picks to film a video montage that the NFL Network will air on draft day.
It's all to raise the profile of a wide receiver who didn't receive much national attention while serving as one of Maryland's biggest playmakers the past three seasons.
"Part of what we've done with Darrius is to try to increase his exposure," said Howard Skall, marketing agent for Creative Artists Agency, the powerful Los Angeles-based firm that represents entertainment and sports celebrities.
"The way we look at it at CAA, with any of our clients, is you look to try to get that connection with the fans. We think you can do that through the media and through corporate partnerships."
Skall's plan is to grow a fan base for Heyward-Bey and open corporate doors, both of which will enhance his personal brand. His celebrated world-class speed could be used to promote high-speed Internet connections, for example.
A month before Heyward-Bey learns his professional destination, Skall is working the angles, preparing for the future. He already has contacted local companies that might have an interest in partnering with Heyward-Bey.
Skall is, in fact, catching up because while folks in the Atlantic Coast Conference certainly knew of Heyward-Bey, many others in the country did not - not in the way they knew Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech or Percy Harvin of Florida, at least.
A private, almost shy star in College Park, Heyward-Bey has moved out onto the bigger stage at the behest of his handlers. But he also knows it's the right thing to do at this point in his career.
"It's been a little bit of an adjustment," he said Wednesday. "I kept my college career fairly private, kept things to myself. But I knew I had to break out of it if I wanted to become the player I want to become. I knew I had to be a little more open. I never had a problem [talking] one-on-one, but letting the whole world see it was different."
Then, to emphasize that he still has his limits, Heyward-Bey said, "You'll never catch me on a reality show."
But you will catch him on the NFL Network's promotional clips and video introduction to the draft. Heyward-Bey went to Silvercup Studios in New York for a Tuesday night shoot. He was joined by running back Knowshon Moreno, cornerbacks Darius Butler and Vontae Davis and defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
In the style of draft promos, the NFL Network filmed each player doing short interviews atop the Silvercup building, with the Manhattan skyline in the background. It was a remember-this moment for Heyward-Bey, who cultivated an interest in filmmaking while at McDonogh School.
"It was a chase-your-dream type of promo," he said. "It was fun being in front of the camera, but I was definitely watching what it takes to run the set, watching the director and the film guy."
Heyward-Bey was back in College Park by 11:30 p.m., and after a workout Wednesday, he hit the ice tub to cool down his valuable legs.
He has already held private workouts with the Philadelphia Eagles and Ravens, and he has another scheduled with the Miami Dolphins. His team visits start next week. That itinerary will take him to Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and St. Louis.
Sitting in ice, he was asked whether the long draft process is all starting to get old yet.
"No, it's not starting to get old," Heyward-Bey said. "I know one day it will, though. I've already told many people, I'm just ready for draft day."
About this series He's 6 feet 3 and weighs 208 pounds. He runs faster than most people on the planet. He's the big-play wide receiver many NFL teams covet, and he could be chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. We continue our series of occasional articles looking at Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey as he prepares for the draft at the end of next month.
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