"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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