McCarty, Tucker work toward dream

There were so many stories to discover at the NFL regional combine in Costa Mesa last week. Two stuck out for me: the speedy running back who wants to fulfill his potential; the crafty wide receiver who doesn't want the league to forget about him.

Princeton McCarty, a running back out of Idaho, has always wowed people with his great speed. Saturday wasn't anything different. His time in the 40-yard dash — 4.35 seconds — was the fastest of the day at the combine.

But something went wrong at the end of the run. McCarty pulled his left hamstring. He was one of about 50 offensive players at OCC vying to reach the NFL Super Combine in Detroit next month.

He didn't want to give up. He continued on to the next skill challenge, the vertical jump. With a tight hamstring, he jumped 36 inches. But that was it. He was done. He couldn't continue.

Even though he didn't finish, McCarty managed to impress the scouts at the combine with his character. He never appeared frustrated or showed anger about his injury. He calmly asked about his options and left the combine, still with a goal in mind and confident about his future.

"My goal is just to play in the league," McCarty said. "I just want to get there and ball."

I've always known McCarty to be confident. In his mind, he knows he can ball with the best of them.

He's had so much promise, so much potential, that he doesn't want it to go to waste.

I covered him when he played at West Bakersfield High. As a senior, he started ahead of Ryan Mathews, a junior at the time, who played in the Pro Bowl on Sunday.

McCarty sees Mathews' success in the league as a starter for the San Diego Chargers and it motivates him.

McCarty's mentor has also been a huge inspiration. That would be Joey Porter, the standout linebacker who has played for the Steelers, Dolphins and Cardinals.

McCarty calls Porter his cousin. Porter, who is also from Bakersfield, enjoyed watching McCarty play in high school. Porter believed McCarty could become something special.

When McCarty tore his left ACL during the Central Section Division II title game, Porter paid for the surgery. Porter had Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache perform the surgery. The doctor has been a consultant to the Dodgers, Lakers and Kings.

Porter remains close to McCarty, who is working hard to reach that Super Combine. He also has a pro date in Idaho in early March. At 5 feet 8, 195 pounds, he appears to be in the mold of Maurice Jones-Drew. He can only hope he can get the opportunity to become a starter like the NFL's leading rusher of 2011.

Stephen Austin, director of NFL regional combines and a Newport Beach resident, was certainly intrigued with McCarty.

"He ran extremely well," Austin said of McCarty. "He was a starter in Idaho. He handled himself very well with the injury. That's a sign of maturity. We're going to talk about him. He's someone we may invite."

Austin also sensed McCarty had a good upbringing with ideal role models without knowing about Porter.

Something tells me this won't be the last we hear of McCarty.

Verran Tucker, a receiver who played at Cal, doesn't want to be forgotten. He made a sensational catch during the drills portion of the combine.

While running an out pattern, he stumbled to the ground, but still caught the ball while laid out on the turf. The catch could be a symbol of his path back to the NFL.

He won't give up.

In 2010, Tucker was part of the surprising season of the Kansas City Chiefs. He started four games for the Chiefs. In a game at Oakland, he caught his first NFL touchdown on his first pro reception in front of friends and family.

But he was later cut and no one picked him up. He sat out the 2011 season wondering what might have been. He came to the regional combine to try to restore his place in the league. He knows he can beat pro defensive backs. He just wants another opportunity to showcase his skills.

He's hoping the NFL Super Combine can be the spot.

He doesn't want to give up on his dream because he was able to play in 2010. He went undrafted out of Cal and landed with the Dallas Cowboys. But he said the team wanted to make room for a linebacker instead and he was cut.

Tucker then tried out for the Chiefs and made their practice squad. He was later called up and played 11 games.

"It was shocking to me not getting a workout after playing 11 games," Tucker said. "Things happen. The whole season went by. I started thinking about arena [football]. I didn't want to accept that I couldn't play in the league. Being there one year and not the other made me wonder. But coming out here I felt good. Hopefully they see something in me to give me another chance and hopefully I get another shot with a team. I pray every night for another chance."

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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