‘I don’t care what round’: After ups and downs, SoCal stars await NFL draft call
Blood, sweat and tears. That’s just the minimum amount of sacrifice required by anyone taken on NFL draft day. It’s so difficult to convince an NFL team to make the decision, but when it happens, it really is time to celebrate with screams, shouts, hugs and high-fives.
This weekend, Romeo Doubs, a 22-year-old graduate of Los Angeles Jefferson High, founded in 1916, is expected to hear his name called. Projections say that might not happen until the fourth round.
He doesn’t care when his phone rings, just that it does.
“Whether I climb up and go in the third round or fall to the fifth round, I still have an opportunity to play,” he said. “I don’t care what round I go in. It’s just a blessing.”
There are four former high school players from Southern California who could be first-round picks — defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (Westlake Village Oaks Christian), receiver Drake London (Moorpark), quarterback Matt Corral (Long Beach Poly) and defensive back Trent McDuffie (Bellflower St. John Bosco).
As with Doubs, each went through the grinder with ups and downs to reach this point.
Corral was the starting quarterback at Oaks Christian. Coach Jim Benkert said he was so competitive that every play in practice was a battle. He left Oaks Christian before his senior year after a well-publicized school dispute and altercation and enrolled at Long Beach Poly.
Although some thought he was just another entitled private school player, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Backing down is not something he does.
Reporters who cover their teams on a daily basis predict how the first round of the 2022 NFL draft will unfold in The Times’ beat writers’ mock draft.
Then there was a strange recruiting process. First he was committed to USC. Then it was Florida. Then it was Mississippi. It led to ridicule from fans of the schools he turned down.
Those in Southern California would have bet the house there was no way he would be staying at Mississippi for long. He was there four years and became a local legend.
Thibodeaux looked as if he was 18 when he was 14 and the talk was he would become the next star from South Los Angeles. His high school career started at Gardena Serra, he switched to Dorsey and then left for Oaks Christian after his sophomore year. His motor and talent were always there. So was his brain.
“The dude is smart,” his former Dorsey coach, Charles Mincy, said.
But there were questions about how much Thibodeaux wanted to be the best.
Mincy credits Thibodeaux’s mother, Shawnta Loice, for watching over him. She’d make sure he boarded the bus or got on a train to school. It was all about having a better future.
He went to Oregon and lived up to expectations, using a strong work ethic to keep improving. He has put himself in position to fulfill his destiny.
London didn’t play varsity football until he was a junior. Moorpark JV coach Tim Lins said he wanted him to be a quarterback. “I was wrong,” he said.
London used his basketball skills to become a receiver like few others, showing toughness, leaping skills and a relentless desire to succeed. USC made him an offer to play both sports but his unique football skills led him to the gridiron.
McDuffie attended Anaheim Servite, then St. John Bosco. He became a terrific punt returner while also building speed by running track. He went to Washington and continued to sharpen his resumé. Workouts and interviews seemed to have helped elevate his draft status.
Blood, sweat and tears. It’s taken that and more for these five Southern California products to reach this point in their football careers. It will be a moment to celebrate their perseverance this week when they become NFL draft picks.
Other than his first pick as Chargers general manager, Tom Telesco has done very well with first-round selections. The rest has been hit and miss, as with the rest of the NFL.
When it comes to overcoming obstacles, Doubs has hurdled them all.
He didn’t play varsity football as a freshman. He eventually became the quarterback on a double-wing T team and was so athletic and impressive that Los Angeles High coach Eric Scott remembered him as a sophomore and offered a scholarship to Nevada when Scott became an assistant coach. The rest is history.
“I was put in an extreme position to be grateful, representing the program, representing the school and understanding you can get out from anywhere you want,” he said. “You just have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
A quarter of the NFL teams don’t have a draft pick in first round, but that doesn’t worry the champion Rams or the other seven teams with alternate plans.
Doubs turned into a terrific receiver at Nevada, catching 20 touchdown passes in his last two seasons. He loved his days at Jefferson doing whatever he could to help the Democrats win.
“I really think the lesson I’ve learned throughout this entire time playing ball is take advantage of the opportunities,” Doubs said. “You see something, take advantage. If you take it for granted, it’s the next man up. I had a really good support system. Having that support system is important because sometimes you will fall and have to get back up.”
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