There was a time, not too long ago, when the NFL draft wasn't on Corey Fuller's radar.
Without a football scholarship offer during his senior year at Woodlawn, Fuller went to Kansas to run track and compete in the triple jump. After two years there, he abandoned his scholarship, transferred to Virginia Tech and paid his tuition out-of-pocket for one year — all for the opportunity to walk onto the football team as a wide receiver.
In his first season of eligibility, Fuller played just 57 offensive snaps and had two catches for 19 yards.
"I didn't even think I was going to have this opportunity," he said of the draft. "And then I started playing more, started making more plays, and I felt like I had a pretty good chance of making it."
Fuller had 43 catches for 815 yards and led the Hokies with six touchdowns in his only year as a starter last season. Despite his lack of experience, he is expected to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
The speedy 22-year-old comes from a football family, with an older brother, Vinnie, who played six seasons in the NFL and two younger brothers, Kyle and Kendall, who will likely start at each cornerback slot for Virginia Tech next season. But Corey always was something of an outlier.
While his brothers preferred defense, Corey always liked to have the ball in his hands — both as a quarterback at Woodlawn and now as a receiver. While they were coveted recruits, Corey was a walk-on who continues to act like one today.
"I appreciate being under the radar," he said. "I know I'm not the big name guy. Honestly I don't really think I want to be that big name guy. As long as the scouts know and the teams know what I can bring to the table, that's all that matters."
As children, the three youngest Fuller brothers frequently walked from their house to nearby Woodlawn High School, where they would play football or basketball with friends and then race one another home. The races were simple and the stakes always were the same: first one home wins, last one home is a rotten egg.
As the brothers grew older, the stakes also grew. The last one home started taking out the trash, or doing the dishes. The competition naturally spilled over to the football field and the basketball court.
"We all push us," Corey said. "If we race right now, I'll win, Kyle will be second, and Kendall and Vinnie would tie. But Kendall, if you ask him right now who's the fastest, he's going to say him. That pushes us even more."
Corey said he never felt pressure to follow his older brother and make it to the NFL, or keep up with his younger brothers and have success at Virginia Tech. They don't relate their lives to anyone else's, no matter how competitive they may seem.
"They motivate each other," their father, Vincent Fuller, said. "They all work hard at what they do so that they can be the best, and so that they're prepared to compete against the best. ... [Corey] was never one of those kids that right out the gate was the best. He's always worked hard to be the best."
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said he didn't have high expectations for Corey when he first walked onto the team. Two years removed from competitive football, the lanky wide receiver was buried on the depth chart and didn't have many opportunities to prove himself.
But when D.J. Coles injured his knee and was ruled out for most of last season, Corey finally got his chance — and he took it. He caught five passes for 82 yards in a season-opening win over Georgia Tech and never looked back.
"I think he turned out to be the most dependable receiver we had last year," Beamer said. "He's always been fast, but I think now he's developed his skill. He catches the ball well, he's got a good quick move after he catches the ball, and he made a couple of great plays for us at a couple of critical times."
"The guy he reminds me of in the NFL is Miles Austin," quarterback Logan Thomas added. "I know he has a big upside, because when he gets there [and] he gets a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, a little bit better understanding, he'll be a really good NFL player."
Russ Lande, scouting director for National Football Post, described Corey as a "real intriguing kid." He said the former Hokie has natural hands and explosive speed, but also a slim frame (6-foot-2, 204 pounds) and a tendency to "wobble" in and out of his routes.
Lande mentioned the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants as ideal landing spots for Corey because of their respective wide receivers coaches and emphases on fundamentals. Corey has met with "a few" teams, but declined to name them. He also participated in the Ravens' local Pro Day on April 4.
"I think when you look at him, he's just a raw guy," Lande, a former NFL scout, explained. "Anytime there's a player like him, it helps and hurts. It helps because you look at the physical tools and you say, 'Wow, what could he be in two or three years?' It hurts because when you watch him run routes and do things, it makes you a little weary."
It helps, of course, that Corey has a family full of cornerbacks to practice with.
Since graduating from Virginia Tech in December, he has spent the past few months living in Baltimore and working out with Vinnie four days per week. The six-year NFL veteran has helped Corey prepare for the bigger, stronger competition that he'll face on Sundays, as well the whirlwind pre-draft process.
"I think that we appreciate the success that Corey has so much more than anyone else [in the family] because we know the road that he's taken and traveled to get here," Vinnie said. "What you see is that hard work and that preparation for putting him here today, and that's what I think is the most gratifying thing."
The four brothers will likely spend draft weekend together at their parents' Woodlawn home, surrounded by lots of friends, lots of family and lots of food. If all goes according to plan, it will be the first of three draft celebrations at the Fuller household over the next five years.
The Fullers could become just the fourth family in NFL history to have four brothers play in the league.
"We all know that we're all blessed athletically and that we're all great athletes," Corey said. "Kendall and Kyle — they're the hardest working people I know."
Last one to the NFL is a rotten egg.
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