By Ken Murray | firstname.lastname@example.org
April 26, 2009
When the Oakland Raiders made Heyward-Bey the seventh pick - and first wide receiver - of the draft Saturday, a group of 30-plus close friends and family exploded in delirium.
Scant moments later, with Heyward-Bey still seated on the brown, L-shape family room sofa, already wearing a Raiders cap, ESPN's Todd McShay delivered the punch.
"To me, this has bust written all over it," McShay said, more in declaration than analysis. "To be obsessed with a 40 [yard dash] time is one reason [Raiders owners] Al Davis continues to pick in this spot."
So began Heyward-Bey's NFL career.
Three months ago, he was a tantalizing speed merchant with suspect hands and limited experience.
Saturday, he went to the head of the class, passing more heralded receivers Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. He should receive about $20 million guaranteed for being drafted that high.
Not long ago he was considered a borderline first-round prospect. Saturday, his draft vigil ended less than an hour into the proceedings, the fastest any Maryland player has been drafted.
Afterward, he shrugged off the criticism just as he had done with skeptics.
"There's always going to be criticism," Heyward-Bey, 22, said. "Out of high school, I had people telling me football was not going to be my sport. In college, people said I was a track guy.
"I'm going to use this as motivation and try to work hard."
When Heyward-Bey got the phone call from Raiders coach Tom Cable with Oakland on the clock, he immediately turned and hugged Devard Darling, one of his closest friends and mentors.
Even after the call, Heyward-Bey said he didn't believe he was the Raiders' choice until he heard it again on television. He should've listened to Darling. A former Ravens receiver (2004-2007), now with the Kansas City Chiefs, Darling told Heyward-Bey he would get drafted by Oakland after he ran the 40 in 4.3 seconds at the scouting combine in February.
"The sky's the limit for this guy," Darling said. "People will say he's going to be a draft bust, but it is what it is. He deserves to be there, and he proved a lot of people wrong."
The Raiders obviously believed there was more reward than risk in the 6-foot-2, 208-pound playmaker. Heyward-Bey joins a receiving corps that includes Javon Walker and Johnnie Lee Higgins. The quarterback is strong-armed but underachieving JaMarcus Russell.
And yes, Heyward-Bey said he wore Raiders apparel growing up.
"Their tradition is the best," he said. "No matter what state you're from, everybody had something from the Oakland Raiders growing up. I wore silver and black. Hopefully, I'll be wearing it the rest of my career."
Going across the country for that career doesn't bother his single-parent mother, Vivian Heyward-Bey, either. She sent him off to McDonogh at 14 to get a better education. She watched him grow into the man he has become - straightforward, considerate, unflappable.
The critics won't get to him, either.
"I have never seen anybody who deals with adversity like Darrius," Vivian said. "They doubted him in high school, and they doubted him in college. But he persevered way beyond anybody's imagination. He doesn't take it as criticism; he takes it as a challenge."
Heyward-Bey was a basketball prodigy when he went to McDonogh, but by his junior year he had a football future. Even though his career numbers at Maryland (138 catches, 15 touchdowns in 38 games) were modest by some standards, he had game-breaking ability and world-class speed.
Based on a projection that he would be a low first-round or early second-round pick, he forfeited his final year of eligibility, then went to work. He spent a month in Phoenix at a training center for prominent NFL prospects, among them quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Josh Freeman.
Then he ran the fastest 40 at the scouting combine and backed it up with a solid pro day at Maryland.
"I don't think it was only his 4.3 at the combine," agent Howard Skall said. "The interview process at the combine was very important, too. People started to see his work ethic. In the end, it was the whole package with Darrius."
Heyward-Bey's unassuming demeanor contrasted with the more flamboyant Crabtree, who was invited to New York for the draft as presumably the first receiver off the board. But Crabtree didn't come off until the 10th pick, to the San Francisco 49ers, and Maclin lasted until the 19th, going to the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Crabtree and Maclin are great players," Heyward-Bey said. "But I have a lot of confidence that I can get the job done, too."
Some 500 people were packed into The Sideline restaurant in Largo for Ellicott City native Aaron Maybin's draft party. But when Heyward-Bey's name was read as the seventh overall pick to the Raiders, a stunned "ooohhhhh" escaped from the crowd. Then, the onlookers - most of them from Baltimore and the surrounding area, where Heyward-Bey went to high school - cheered loudly. It was by far the second-most enthusiastic reaction of the day, behind that of Maybin's selection four spots later.
Heyward-Bey's day started at 7:30 a.m., when he got up to play video games by himself. Then he went to a mall to buy a shirt for the occasion, picked up a bagel at a shop off Route 1 and eventually made his way to the home of Yolanda Woodlee, whose late husband, Rich, had served as a long-time mentor for Heyward-Bey.
Rich Woodlee suffered a heart attack and died in January after helping Heyward-Bey pick his agent (he went with Creative Artists Agency). That's why Vivian Heyward-Bey wanted everyone to gather at the Woodlees' house and why she called it a bittersweet week.
Vivian and Yolanda shared a long hug after Oakland made its early call. The rest of Heyward-Bey's supporters all applauded.
"I enjoyed being his mother," Vivian Heyward-Bey said. "I learned a lot from my son - even at an early age.
"The doubters weren't here when he was small. Some kids had fathers who were coaches, and some were raised to be football players. Darrius didn't have any of that. He has me."
Baltimore Sun columnist David Steele contributed to this article.
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