The Dream To Go Pro (originally aired on WUFT in June 10th,1997)
For many Florida sports fans, the 1997 NFL will go down as one of the most memorable. All three major universities had draft picks in the first round. Playing in the pros is a dream for many college athletes, some even forsaking a degree to follow that dream. Florida State University’s Walter Jones made that decision when he got drafted as the sixth pick by the Seattle Seahawks. The University of Miami’s Yatil Green also chose to leave early as the Dolphins first pick and Kinard Lang made that choice when picked by the Washington Redskins. And at the University of Florida wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony chose to forfeit their senior year at UF to follow their pro dreams. As Donna Green-Townsend reports, it’s a tough choice and one that worries some coaches and parents.
Full script of Part 1:
For many Florida sports fans the 1997 NFL draft will go down as one of the most memorable. All three major universities had draft picks in the first round. Playing in the pros is a dream for many college athletes. Some even forsaking a degree to follow that dream. Florida State University’s Walter Jones made that decision when he got drafted as the sixth pick for the Seattle Sea Hawks. The University of Miami’s Yateel Green also chose to leave early as the Dolphins first pick. And Kinnard Lange made that choice when picked by the Washington Redskins. And at the University of Florida wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony chose to forfeit their senior year at UF to follow their pro dreams. It’s a tough choice and one that worries some coaches and parents. Donna Green-Townsend prepared this report:
(nat snd of Mick Hubert….. “Wuerffel back to throw…..Hilliard…..fade up a touchdown throw to Anthony) (fade up song of Pink Floyd’s Money song)
(Montage or voxpop of bites from John Reaves, Jeremy Foley, Lee McGriff and Danny Wuerffel)
John Reaves, “Show me the money. That’s what the market is nowadays and more power to ’em.”
Jeremy Foley, “Yes, money is one thing but feeling productive getting up in the morning and contributing to the lives of our kids and society or whatever have you, that’s where your degree comes in.”
Lee McGriff, “financially it’s about like hitting the lottery”
Danny Wuerffel, “It’s a big money game. There is a lot of money’ You get money that you can’t get at any other job coming out of college for the most part.”
(MONEY SONG UP FULL AND DOWN) Big Money, something two University of Florida football players probably considered when they made a choice between finishing college or turning pro. And for wide receiver, Ike Hilliard, the first round draft choice of the New York Giants and Reidel Anthony, the pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that choice may have a handsome payoff:
John Reaves, “you know both of those young men are about to become millionaires,”
John Reeves knows what Hilliard and Anthony face. The former Gator star quarterback was a first round draft choice for the Philadelphia Eagles and played fourteen years in the pros. Now an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina Reeves finds it hard to fault the decision to leave school early.
John Reeves, “One of the reasons you go to school is to prepare yourself for a good job. Well obviously the University of Florida’s helped them to do that and they’ve got a great job. They’re going to make a lot of money.”
But for every Hilliard or Anthony there are others who may pass up a college degree only to get nothing in return. Mike Cobb a sportswriter for the Lakeland Ledger has followed college football for 23 years.
Mike Cobb, “In the NFL draft that was just held there were 44 underclassmen that declared for the draft, and 16 of ‘em weren’t drafted. Uh, so now they’re going to have to scrounge around and get a contract as a free agent somewhere or go out and find a job somewhere…or come up with the money to pay their way back to school and just go to school and not play sports and just be a college student. And I doubt that most of the sixteen would do that.”
But the hard facts that less than one percent of college players ever make it to the next level pales next to the dream of every athlete to make it professionally. University of Florida Head Basketball Coach Billy Donovan:
Billy Donovan, “I think it’s only normal for every kid to dream. I think one of the biggest problems and I really disagree with it is you’ve got everybody out there saying , “you’ve got a better chance of being struck by lightning than you do of making the NBA,” and you know that might be realistic. But that’s all I was told growing up. And I was told all about what I could not do and I played in the NBA. And I played for a very short period of time. But I reached that goal. And I would say that 95% of the people I came into contact with when I was a youngster when I said I wanted to play in the NBA laughed in my face or said you can’t do that. Forget about it worry about getting your degree and all this other things. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having stars in your eyes.”
It’s a constant question that dogs college athletes and those who coach them. Is it better to take a chance on the dream now or hang in there and get a degree that might provide some security later on. FSU rising quarterback Chris Weinke knows firsthand about pursuing a professional career. After leaving college early to play baseball for the Toronto Bluejays he discovered a harsh reality. Now at 24 he’s come back to school to play football and more importantly to get a degree:
Chris Weinke, “The most important thing that I can tell or that I can say about the whole situation is it’s not going to last forever. Um. I think the most important thing is to get a college degree because that’s really what’s going to help you in the long run. And I think the average time spent in the NFL is 3 ½ to 4 years right now once you make it. And what are you going to do when you’re 28 years old or 29 years old. That’s the important thing and I can’t stress that enough. And you know I think that I realize that now more than I did coming out of high school.”
But that’s an argument that may be hard to sell to a young man or woman who has the opportunity to make sometimes literally millions. And it’s an argument that coaches and even parents might have trouble making. Former gator standout. Lee McGriff, who spent a couple of years in the pros and whose son now plays on scholarship for the gators says turning down that kind of opportunity is hard.
Lee McGriff, “Someone said if you sent your child to college and in their junior year IBM or whoever came knocking and said, ‘gee will you come to work for us now. Here is x millions of dollars. We will train you. Would you send your child? Now that doesn’t mean IBM can’t fire them five years later or anything else, but if it was another line of work and they had the unique opportunity to leave school and make that kind of money so immediately, would you advise the to do it. Most probably would.”
One athlete who did decide to put a hold on his pro dreams to stay in college is Tennessee’s ‘Golden Boy,’ Peyton Manning, the quarterback who turned away from a possible first pick first round draft selection and possibly millions to try and achieve collegiate goals:
Peyton Manning “I said I wasn’t going to look back when I made my decision and I’ve certainly held true to that. ..I really enjoy this semester of school after the decision. My decision was a unique decision and Ike Hilliard’s decision to leave was totally different than mine I think. I never fault anybody for leaving early. It’s a personal decision and my decision to stay was what I wanted to do. I wasn’t making a statement for what people should do, I was doing what I wanted to do, although I certainly don’t mind being a ambassador for college football.”
At her home in Patterson, Louisiana, Ike Hilliard’s mother, Doris Francis, says she hopes her son will follow in the footsteps of former gator running back and Dallas Cowboy football star Emmitt Smith who came back to complete his collegiate goals.
Francis, “I hope so. I hope he does. He told me he said, “momma, I can always go back to school and I just said okay I just hope you do, but like I say, that’ll be his decision. His mom, I don’t make those decisions, but I’m hoping he decides to go back and get his degree.”
But it’s the players themselves who finally decide and even when parents and coaches tell them the cold, hard facts that message may not have much effect. 1996 Heisman Trophy Winner Danny Wuerffel, himself a fourth round draft choice for the New Orleans Saints says each player has to face a reality check himself:
Wuerffel, “It’s a good job, but there are so many factors you can’t control with injuries and things like that, that it’s kind of like building on not a very solid foundation. I think the guys that really understand the things that last in life, are the people that really you know at least hopefully in the beginning are serious about their education, but so often it takes people you know, as humans we have to learn it the hard way and you get guys who go give it a shot and don’t make it and end up back at the university to finish up.” soc