NFL DRAFT : WAITING BY PHONE : At the End of a Long Day, USC's Affholter Finally Gets Call From Green Bay

Times Staff Writer

Day was turning into night and Erik Affholter was turning into a couch potato.

He arrived at his father's home in Agoura around 10 a.m. Sunday, figuring that his name wasn't going to come up in the first round of the nationally televised NFL draft, which began an hour earlier.

But the first round became the second, the third and then the fourth. The TV droned on, but still no word.

Affholter was hardly surprised. Even though he was the leading pass receiver in USC history, he has heard all about his limitations.

The scouting report of Joel Buchsbaum of Pro Football Weekly says of Affholter: "Lacks speed and acceleration. Is not a great runner after the catch."

The National Football Scouting combine did not even list Affholter among its top dozen prospects at wide receiver.

"You just watch TV and see what happens," Affholter said. "That's all you can do. It made for a very stressful day. I was just trying to stay calm. I tried not to jump every time the phone rang. I was just waiting for the right ring."

Finally, it came at 4:15.

Green Bay Packer Coach Lindy Infante was on the line, telling Affholter they were going to go for him.

As it turned out, that's not exactly the way it happened . In the fourth round, the Washington Redskins called the Packers and asked them to draft Long Beach State quarterback Jeff Graham, the man Washington wanted. The Redskins took Affholter later in the round and sent him to Green Bay for Graham. For their trouble, the Packers also picked up two draft choices from Washington, a fifth and an eighth.

Green Bay receivers coach Buddy Geis has heard all the negative comments about Affholter, but he was still impressed.

"We want receivers, not retrievers," Geis said. "What a receiver has to do first is get open to catch the ball. He (Affholter) has great hands. He finds the right area and he sits in that area. When he gets open, he doesn't keep running. He sits in the hole and says to the quarterback, 'You find me.' He makes that quick turn and the ball is on him. Whether it's high, low, left or right, he has the hands. He's a real plus for us to get in the fourth round."

Affholter, who set records at USC for passes caught in the regular season, both in one season (63) and a career (118), has most often been compared to another receiver who can't run, can't accelerate, can't do anything other than catch the ball, Steve Largent.

"I don't think I could have caught all those passes and made All-American without being able to run a little bit," Affholter said. "I've got to be able to get open a little bit. But I've been in that position my whole career. I've proved I could do it to myself and that's the only person I have to prove it to. Now we'll see how it goes at the next level."

Affholter admitted it still hasn't totally sunk in that he has reached the next level.

"It's a strange feeling to know I'm a Packer," he said. "It's like a childhood dream come true. But it's all conditional on making the team. I've still got to be better than the next guy. I'm looking forward to it."

But Affholter wouldn't deny that, as the hours went by and there was no word from the flickering box in front of him, the feeling that he might never get that call kept surfacing.

"It does cross your mind," he said. "The scouting reports are just one man's opinion, but the teams give no indication what they are thinking. It's a scary process."

Just ask Rodney Peete. Some of Affholter's euphoria Sunday was tempered by the fact that Peete, the throwing half of one of the most successful passing combinations in Trojan history, was not picked in Sunday's five-round draft. The remaining seven rounds will be held today.

"We wished each other luck Saturday and that was that," Affholter said. "We plan to work out together at school tomorrow (Monday). But I would have thought he'd have been picked by now. In my mind, it's ridiculous that he wasn't. But whether he is drafted or not, I think he's going to go in and make a team and start in a couple of years. A lot of teams are making a mistake by not taking him."

Actually Affholter came a lot closer than he knows to remaining on the end of Peete's passes. The Packers, according to Geis, seriously considered taking Peete on the third round. Instead, they went for Anthony Dilweg of Duke.

"It practically came to a coin toss," Geis said. "We didn't know which way to go. They were so even."

Affholter might seem even with a lot of fellow receivers, but he brings an extra weapon to the Packers--a powerful foot. While at Oak Park High School in Agoura, he once kicked a 64-yard field goal, then a national record.

"I'm a wide receiver and that's what I plan on doing," Affholter said. "But who knows? If I need a leg, it will be there for me."

One thing he doesn't need, but will be there anyway, is Green Bay's bad weather.

"That's something I've never really done, (playing in cold weather)," Affholter said, "but football is football. Whether it's rain, snow or sun, hot or 10 below, you've still got to keep your eye on the ball."

And with that, Affholter was ready to go celebrate Sunday night. How? You can bet on one thing. He didn't spend it watching television.

Enough's enough.

When Carnell Lake came to UCLA, he was a running back. When he left, he was an All-American linebacker.

So where's he going to play in the NFL?

Neither of the above.

Lake, a 6-0 1/2, 205-pounder, was selected on the second round Sunday by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who immediately informed the Culver City High School graduate he'll be moving to the defensive backfield.

That doesn't come as any shock to Lake, who knew that his size was going to be a disadvantage in the NFL.

"I played some safety in the East-West Shrine game and in the Senior Bowl," Lake said, "because I was projected there in the pros by the scouts and they wanted to see me at that position. That's probably the best place for me to play. It's really my natural spot. Actually, I was not too far off there this year. With a lot of coverage we were in, it was almost like playing strong safety."

Lake was one of three Bruins drafted on the second round Sunday. Immediately following him was running back Eric Ball, who went to the Cincinnati Bengals. Later in the round, defensive back Darryl Henley was selected by the Rams. And, of course, the first pick of the draft was UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, who went to the Dallas Cowboys.

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