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"What I've Learned So Far"

Nov. 15, 2004
Nov. 15, 2004

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Nov. 15, 2004

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"What I've Learned So Far"

They got the dream job--now what? Checking in with the NFL class of 2004

DEANGELO HALL FALCONS CB

This is an article from the Nov. 15, 2004 issue

"IN THE grand scheme of things, my life really hasn't changed," says the Virginia Tech alum whom Atlanta took at No. 8 and gave a team-record $13 million signing bonus. "I do the same routine, I just get to play on Sundays now. Used to be Wednesdays in middle school, Thursdays in jayvee, Fridays in high school and Saturdays in college. You love doing it, but it's like a job. Waking up at six o'clock, making the drive down here, watching film." Hall started his first game against the Broncos on Nov. 6 and had four tackles. "It's funny, when you have money, everybody wants to give you money," says Hall, who wears number 21 as a tribute to Deion Sanders. "Car dealerships want to give you cars, banks try to loan you money. When you don't have money, nobody wants to give you any."

IGOR OLSHANSKY CHARGERS DE

"THE VETS have this thing on rookies, almost like a disrespect code. It doesn't make sense to me because everybody was a rookie at one point," says the 6'6" 309-pounder who was born in the Ukraine and raised in San Francisco. Olshansky attended Oregon, where he set a team record by bench-pressing 505 pounds. Taken at No. 35 in the draft, he has started all nine games for the Chargers and is excelling by paying attention to detail. "In the NFL there's a lot more preparation than in college--focusing on your man, his techniques and how he blocks," says Olshansky. "Really, what matters is not what people think of you but what you think of yourself. If you're out there taking care of business, you'll get the respect in time."

JONATHAN VILMA JETS LB

VILMA, THE 12th player (and first linebacker) taken, has been a starter for New York since Sam Cowart went down with a knee injury in Game 2. "I knew rest was important," he says, "but I never understood how long the season is. I'm used to winding down my college season after 10 weeks, and here we're just picking it up." Vilma, who has 52 tackles, tied for best on the team, says, "I don't think about [hitting] the wall, I'm having too much fun." The former Miami Hurricane recently put some of his $1.2 million reporting bonus toward a 3,000-square-foot town house on Long Island, but his early success doesn't appear to have changed him--perhaps because, like many in this year's class (page 41), he seems wise beyond his years. Says Jets coach Herman Edwards, "His maturity level is probably the best I've seen in a rookie. A lot of things are going on, and he's handled it."

LARRY FITZGERALD CARDS WR

"YOU HAVE to find a hobby," says the dapper Fitzgerald, who left Pittsburgh after his sophomore season and went third in the draft. "You have so much free time. If you don't have something to do, there are a lot of [bad] things you can get into." Fitzgerald admits he hasn't heeded his own advice about getting a hobby. "Football is my hobby," he says. It's also his job, and he's typically the last guy to leave the practice facility. Raised in Minneapolis, he got a taste of NFL life in the mid-1990s as a Vikings ball boy. "You see the guys and their lifestyles," says Fitzgerald, who has a team-high 463 receiving yards. "Then you live it, and the money is in your pocket and there's really nothing you can't do. I try not to let that get to me. I try to stay in my budget, do what my financial adviser tells me to do and stay humble and well grounded.... I don't even have furniture in my house!"

DUNTA ROBINSON TEXANS CB

"YOU'VE GOT to be a note taker and study your opponent," says Robinson, who leads Houston with three interceptions. "If you make the same mistake week in and week out, teams are going to take advantage." Texans secondary coach Jon Hoke requires the Athens, Ga., native to record game observations in a spiral notebook, and Robinson, who went 10th out of South Carolina, had plenty to jot down after lining up opposite Vikings receiver Randy Moss in Week 5. "If he sees you in a certain coverage, he's calling Daunte [Culpepper]'s name or pointing. They know what you're going to do. In college that's not something you're going to see."

MICHAEL CLAYTON BUCS WR

CLAYTON LEADS rookies with 42 catches, even as he adjusts to experiences away from Baton Rouge, where he grew up and went to LSU. "I have a daughter [Madison] who's three. I'd been with her her whole life," says Clayton. "Now I'm away from my family, paying my own bills. It makes you grow up so fast." Clayton eases the transition by staying busy--he bowls and swims--and by flying as many as nine family members to games. "You have to keep your head in real-life situations," he says. "The NFL is very, very serious. Decisions I made in college, I could go back and fix. You make a bad decision now with money, with a female--it could cost you your career."

DREW HENSON COWBOYS QB

AN ELDER STATESMAN in this year's class--he'll turn 25 in February--Henson has spent the last four years playing third base in the Yankees' organization. "A lot of the things I was away from just came back naturally," says the former Michigan star who is serving as the backup to Vinny Testaverde. "I feel pretty good. If there was any rust, it's all gone. I am excited to see where this takes me."

ROY WILLIAMS LIONS WR

"WHEN I got my check, I looked at it. I put it back down. O.K. Let's make sure this is correct. I looked again. All I did was call my mom, Chris, and say, 'I got my first check,'" says the ex--Texas star, who got a five-year, $27 million deal after going seventh in the draft. Williams, who made both his NFL and movie debut this year--the latter as an assistant coach in Friday Night Lights--says his lifestyle hasn't changed. "I like to sit home," he says. "The season is different here. In college, you lose a game, it's over. You're playing for a national title. Here you lose a game and it's, O.K., we'll bounce back next week."

COLOR PHOTOMARY ANN CHASTAIN/AP (HALL)COLOR PHOTOGEORGE NIKITIN/AP (OLSHANSKY)COLOR PHOTOJOSEPH ROGATE/WIREIMAGE.COM (VILMA)COLOR PHOTOMICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (FITZGERALD)   BEST DRESSEDCOLOR PHOTOBILL BAPTIST (ROBINSON)   MOST STUDIOUSCOLOR PHOTOMICHAEL HEAPE (CLAYTON)COLOR PHOTODAVID J. PHILLIP/AP (HENSON)COLOR PHOTOJIM TURNER/WIREIMAGE.COM (WILLIAMS)   BEST SECOND JOB