Visanthe Shiancoe tries to downplay the attention he continues to attract.
He knows an increasing number of NFL scouts are studying him. He senses there is a good chance he will be drafted next spring. He dreams of being paid handsomely to play a game for which he was built.
For now, though, the senior tight end from Morgan State (his name is pronounced Va-shan-tey She-an-co) is trying to stick to the present, hoping to help a victory-starved program enjoy success, wanting to represent a winner for a change.
"I try not to think about the scouts," said Shiancoe, who figures he has talked with about a dozen of them so far this season. "The NFL is always in the back of my mind. It encourages me to work harder. I can't get caught slacking off. I've got to push more and get better at everything I do. But these losses affect me big. I've never been part of a winning program."
Dating to his days at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Shiancoe is all too familiar with futility. At Morgan State, which has not enjoyed a winning season since 1979, Shiancoe is playing for his third head coach in four seasons. The Bears have won five games in that span.
Think of Shiancoe as a 6-foot-5, 248-pound bright spot with excellent speed and strength, sure hands and impressive leaping ability. Think of him as a player who has taken large strides forward in recent years, after admittedly taking a lazy approach to high school ball.
In a 49-28 loss at Towson on Sept. 5, for example, Shiancoe was the most striking talent on the field.
None of the Tigers' undersized outside linebackers could slow him coming off the line, and no one could cover him without help. He stretched the pass defense each time he ran down the middle of the field, and twice he outleaped defensive backs to complete big-gain catches. His five receptions went for 115 yards and a touchdown.
"We had two [NFL] scouts watching film of [Shiancoe] over here that week. We've seen him three times, and we've seen how he's improved his route-running and his ability to go up and get the ball," Towson coach Gordy Combs said.
"He's a great target. He's very fluid when he runs. He doesn't lumber. Very soft hands. Great frame. With his size and his speed, I think he's a legitimate NFL prospect."
Ravens scout Joe Hortiz, who spent time recently with Shiancoe, agreed with Combs, adding he could see the tight end getting selected in the second half of the seven-round draft. "He is really raw, but he's got a lot of potential," Hortiz said.
Morgan State's first-year coach, Donald Hill-Eley, said Shiancoe's best football days lie ahead, and Hill-Eley loves the way Shiancoe devours the playbook and is addicted to the weight room and to learning the finer details of his position.
"I've never coached a tight end who runs a 4.5 [seconds in the 40-yard dash], is strong enough to block better than a tackle and is elusive enough that linebackers can't cover him," Hill-Eley said.
"[Shiancoe] has allowed us to take advantage of mismatches. He has the gracefulness of a receiver, and his blocking has definitely improved from last year. ... This guy is a prototype."
The son of Liberian parents who was born in Birmingham, England, and envisions himself with a master's degree in psychology, Shiancoe was an infant when Jonathan and Ethel Shiancoe separated. His mother, a social worker in Washington, raised him in Montgomery County. His father once ran a seafood import/export business in Ghana, where he still resides. Shiancoe said he and his father talk on the phone about once a month.
"Mom is the one. I owe her, and Mom is going to receive her payback," he said. "She pushed me, and I know my level of performance can't go backward. I can't allow myself to become an average player."
"His high school coach told him he could go to any [college] he wanted, but he was too lazy at the time," Ethel Shiancoe said. "It's been like a [180-degree] turn, especially the last two or three years at Morgan. He is better with his grades now, and he wants to play football so badly. He is so focused."
Shiancoe spurned an offer from Howard and walked on at Morgan as a freshman, then earned a scholarship after one season. By his junior year, he was asserting his drive and talent. Five of his 24 receptions went for scores, and he averaged an impressive 17.2 yards per catch. The scouts started calling.
He has since become consumed with the game, and it shows. Shiancoe has bench-pressed 225 pounds 27 times, is able to dunk a basketball with both hands thanks to a 40-inch vertical leap and is determined to master good blocking technique. And he is stretching defenses like never before.
Through Morgan State's 1-3 start, Shiancoe is averaging 21.2 yards on 13 receptions, three of which have gone for scores.
"When I drop a ball, I take it personally. If I'm moping in practice, I notice the other tight ends mope. I have to lead by example. I want to win. I can't get caught up in the hype," he said.
"I live in the weight room. I wish I had my own key. I should have my own cot in there. That's the difference between good players and great players. Great players go the extra mile. My talent is God's blessing. I'm thankful for it. I can't let it go to waste."