MARTINSVILLE, N.J. – On the surface, Adham Talaat is a typical Division III player trying to pursue his NFL dreams.
Talaat is a 6-6, 292-pound defensive end who is generating some serious buzz from scouts. The interest is well-founded after a senior season in which the defensive end registered 46 tackles and five sacks despite facing double- and triple-teams from offensive linemen. Teams are intrigued by his size and strength and the rawness of his game, despite the fact that he has never heard the crowd cheer after one of his tackles.
As a toddler, Talaat was diagnosed with profound to severe hearing loss and fitted for hearing aids after his grandmother noticed one day that he wasn't responsive to her calls. He attended and played at Gallaudet University, the only college in the world dedicated to deaf and hard of hearing students.
Talaat is an unusual case among NFL draft prospects, but that hasn't stopped him before.
At a young age he recognized that he was the only student in class or his school who wore hearing aids but he never felt out of place. He was a very good student and he enjoyed playing sports even with the hearing aids always present in his ears.
Before he was the starting left guard of the Chicago Bears, Matt Slauson was an overweight kid in elementary school, which “made for an obvious target.” There was also something else that made him an obvious target for bullies, something that would make him run home from school crying.
He was always aware of his stuttering, even from an early age. Slauson was picked on and bullied growing up – “everyone knows that kids are ruthless” – and as a large kid with a speech impediment he said bullies seemed to naturally find him. There were times he'd come home in tears to his mother's arms, asking her, “Why am I fat? Why am I dumb?”
One autumn day in fifth grade, he walked by one of the town fields in Sweet Home, Ore. when he was stopped by the head coach of the local team. He was asked by the coach if, based solely on his size, if he'd be willing to play football. The thought instantly appealed to him.
“The bullying stopped pretty quick after I started playing football. It made everything right, it made everything OK. The kids who were picking on me, they became my teammates. Then they became my friends.”
In the NFL, Slauson isn't alone.
At a time when most draft prospects are trading up their cars, NFL hopeful Rashid Williams recently traded in his luxury sedan for a minivan. He's heard the jokes and the zingers from the other players training at TEST Parisi Football Academy in Martinsville, N.J., including that he drives a “soccer mom mobile.” But his minivan is more than a set of wheels to take him to his combine training every day.
He also lives in it. Williams is homeless by choice.
For most NFL draft prospects, sacrifices are to be expected as they ready for the combine and their individual Pro Days; for Williams, his ambition has taken him so far as to empty his life savings to train for the NFL draft. This decision now means that he lives out of his van to pursue this goal.
He is far from your typical athlete readying for a shot at an NFL payday.
He ran track at Division II Holy Family in Philadelphia and never played college football. Then after college, he went through a series of jobs before he enrolled at Penn State to get his MBA. He's smart with a good sense of humor and a tremendous belief in himself, very much an All-American type.
When he smiles, so does everyone else in the room.
Johnny Football has a fan in Broadway Joe.
The comparisons between Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath of the New York Jets are only natural. Both were supreme talents in college and offered respective franchises a potential game-changer under center. And both grabbed attention off the field for a love of life, very often after hours. That's part of the concern for talent evaluators when they look at Manziel, whose partying and poor choices have grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In the eyes of Namath, the concerns about Manziel's lifestyle are unfounded. Namath was certainly known for his off-the-field escapades, including dating a string of models and Hollywood starlets as well as frequenting all the hot spots in New York. So while he has had the experiences with the off-the-field side of the game, he doesn't see any red flags with Manziel's character concerns.
“This is an era where things get blown out of proportion. He isn't doing anything that other players his age – older or younger – aren't doing,” Namath told Yahoo Sports.
There were times growing up that Sheldon Richardson remembers being told to forget about his dream of playing in the NFL, but that never made much sense to him.
In middle school, he remembers when the school would host "Career Day" and different adults would filter into his classroom and tell them about their vocations. There would be doctors and lawyers and architects – but never a professional athlete. When the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?" was invariably asked by the presenter, Richardson's hand would shoot up.
He'd blurt out, “I want to be a professional football player.” He remembers other students were always encouraged when they gave their dream jobs. But there was Richardson, almost always discouraged from his ambition.
Now dreams are a reality for Richardson.
In his rookie year, he had 77 tackles and 3.5 sacks along with a forced fumble, numbers that made him the NFL's defensive rookie of the year. There were also two touchdown runs when he was part of the Jets short-yardage package late in the season.
He wanted to play in the NFL since he was little and didn't have any other dreams, no backup plans.
The New York Giants won't be getting a Super Bowl bonus, but one member of the team will be capitalizing on the big game being in town. Rookie safety Cooper Taylor is subletting his apartment to capitalize on the Super Bowl being just a short jaunt away in East Rutherford, N.J.
In a story that ran in Friday's New York Post, Cooper detailed his desire to get out of the city for what will be a cramped and crowded build-up to the first ever Super Bowl in the New York area. He shares his apartment with his girlfriend Susan Carlson, a real estate agent.
Not surprisingly, Carlson saw the demand of the Super Bowl and the surge in hotel prices in the New York City area (some motels are charging more than $1,000 a night) as something the couple could capitalize on. She told Yahoo Sports the rationale behind the decision.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Rumors of Rex Ryan's demise might be a bit premature.
If you believe the reports, Ryan is on his last legs as coach of the Jets, ending a five-year stint that started with the franchise's first back-to-back appearances in the AFC championship game and ended with three straight seasons without the playoffs. Ryan, the gregarious and often unfiltered head coach, has found the success from his first two years with the Jets to be fleeting, but this year's 7-8 record has exceeded every expectation.
This was a team picked to be among the bottom three in the league by nearly every major media outlet. They were given three wins by most of these outlets as well, and that was with veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez under center.
But with Sanchez hurt in preseason and a raw rookie in Geno Smith starting at quarterback this year, the Jets somehow won seven games with one to go. They did it with a defense that lost six starters from the year before and an offense down four prominent players from last year, not including Sanchez.
He also should have the backing of owner Woody Johnson and his right hand man, Ira Akselrad, maybe just for financial reasons.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – In the face of criticism that his addition to the New York Jets secondary has been anything but the savior the team needed, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed took exception with the New York media on Friday and questioned its understanding of football.
During his only availability of the week, Reed spent the first half of his comments lashing out at the media for a lack of understanding of the game and for what he saw as unfair criticism of his play. The 37-year old has at times shown his age and a lack of mobility on the field, which played a role in his ouster from Houston. Now with the Jets, his play has been marked by missed tackles and bad mistakes.
So Reed bristled when the first question directed to him on Friday was about his play.
“This is football man. We in this locker room have been playing football for a long time. Nobody is perfect out here on the football field. You guys job is to critique, be critics,” Reed said. “That's what you do. That's why you ask the controversial questions, try to make it controversial and then trash people in the media. I could care less about that. Missed tackles happen. Nobody is perfect."
The numbers for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon this season have been sensational. The league's leader with 1,467 receiving yards, Gordon has scored a touchdown in five straight games. He is arguably the best receiver in the NFL over the last half of the season.
It has been an amazing 2013 for a player who started the season on suspension.
A positive drug test cost him the first two games of this year with a league-mandated suspension. Another positive test and he would be suspended for a full year. There were rumors during the season that the Browns were trying to trade Gordon.
Gordon explained that the positive test that cost him a two-game suspension was for codeine in some cough medicine he took during the offseason. That explanation drew some rolled eyes from fans and certainly the media.
But he is answering every question on the field. There are no more eyes rolling when his name is brought up.
“Definitely from the point I got back, I definitely decided to try to make as big of an impact as I could for the team, for the offense and being the biggest playmaker possible for this team," Gordon said.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Rex Ryan said he hasn't thought about his future with the New York Jets, even after Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers likely doomed his team to a third straight year without a postseason berth.
But now that you mention it, yes, he thinks he is the right man to coach the Jets next year.
It is not terribly surprising that Ryan said on Monday he hadn't thought about if he will return to the Jets next season - that is the standard answer from head coaches on the hot seat. After the start of his head coaching career in New York was marked with consecutive trips to the AFC championship game in 2009 and 2010, Ryan's Jets haven't made the playoffs since and they hold a 20-26 record since the start of the 2011 season.
His time in New York could be up by season's end, although he thinks he deserves at least another year.
“I know I'm a good football coach. I believe in this team, I believe in this organization,” Ryan said. “I'm determined to bring a winner to this team, there's no question about it. I know and I believe I'm the right guy for it.”
With all that being said, it hasn't been doom and gloom for the 6-8 Jets.