COLLEGE PARK -- At every turn, there was another hand for him to shake, another picture for him to pose for. Kids half his age tapped him on his broad, muscular shoulders, pleading for his autograph, or for a minute of his attention. When he walked, men with gel in their hair, some wearing expensive shoes and designer sunglasses, studied his gait and scribbled notes on their clipboards.
For a few hours yesterday, former Maryland tight end Vernon Davis found out what it feels like to live inside a fishbowl. A scout from virtually every NFL team showed up to study virtually every move he made at Maryland's designated pro workout day, even though Davis' participation was minimal. He chose not to lift in the weight room or run the 40-yard dash with the rest of the Terps' NFL hopefuls, having already proved himself in those areas with a jaw-dropping performance at the NFL combine nearly a month ago. (His 40 time of 4.38 seconds is thought to be the fastest time ever by a tight end at the combine.)
Still, it was hard for anyone to take his eyes off Davis, a player who some experts believe will be taken with one of the first 15 picks of the NFL draft, if not the first 10.
Even Davis seemed to understand that his participation yesterday, however minimal, was still important. When you're auditioning for millions of dollars, the details matter. And so, he smiled as much as he could, made a obvious effort to look people in the eyes as he shook their hands and did his best to see that no one left disappointed. NFL scouts looked on, showing all the emotion of a Secret Service detail, studying him from every angle, looking for any hidden imperfections. Former Terps Domonique Foxworth, Denard Wilson and Eric Ogbogu looked on, hoping to offer support and advice.
"I didn't have to come here today because I've done everything else," Davis said. "But I was so excited, I wanted to be here and do something. Every little thing I do could affect how I do in the draft."
He was nervous, something he did not try to deny. But in the 20 minutes he spent running routes and catching passes, Davis showed no obvious flaws that will prevent him from playing in the NFL for many years. He exploded out of his stance, thundered up the field, and softly cradled the football into his large hands, time after time. Afterward, he smiled and fidgeted as reporters peppered him with questions. Just a few feet away, scouts quietly compared notes on his workout.
"I'm ready for whatever," Davis said of the NFL. "Whatever is in my path, I'm ready to take it on."
For much of the afternoon, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen stood in the eye of the proverbial storm, quietly watching the workouts with his hands wedged into his back pockets. Friedgen, who had hoped that Davis might return to Maryland for his senior season, said he has learned to be cautiously optimistic about where his players will be drafted. He is hopeful, but far from certain, that Davis will go high in the first round.
"You need to remember that a lot of these guys making predictions have never been inside a draft room on draft day," Friedgen said. "I have. I know what goes on in there. It's not always the 32 best players that get drafted in the first round."
Davis, however, is not worried. The draft, which he would like to attend if he is invited, cannot get here soon enough.
"I don't sleep that good," Davis said. "I get anxious. I get excited. I just can't wait for that day to come so I know where I'm going."