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NFL Draft puts Missouri's McGriff-Culver at a crossroads

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 | 8:30 p.m. CDT; updated 8:53 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 25, 2013
Jared McGriff-Culver didn't get a lot of playing time at Missouri. He doesn't expect to be picked on draft day, but with the support of his mother, he is determined to steal a spot on an NFL roster through preseason invites.

COLUMBIA — Jared McGriff-Culver wanted to transfer.

He had just completed his sophomore season for the Missouri football team. He didn’t play as often as he wanted and thought he deserved to be on the field more. A walk-on, McGriff-Culver was paying his way through school. He was discouraged.

Tigers NFL Draft hopefuls

Six other former Missouri football players could get selected in the NFL Draft this weekend:

Sheldon Richardson, DT: Richardson, who is foregoing his senior year at Missouri to enter the draft, is widely expected to be taken in the first round on Thursday. Richardson was dominant in the middle of the Tigers' defense last season and finished with 75 tackles. Scouts Inc., which released a full seven-round Mock Draft on Wednesday, projects Richardson as the 18th overall pick to the Dallas Cowboys.

Zaviar Gooden, LB: After a good senior season, Gooden caught the attention of scouts with strong performances at the NFL Combine in February and Missouri's pro day in March. Scouts Inc. projects Gooden as the second pick of the fifth round, 135th overall, to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

T.J. Moe, WR: Although he's very popular among Missouri fans, Moe's short stature and lack of break-away speed doesn't make him attractive to NFL scouts. He was able to find a niche and be productive during his four years as a Tiger, catching 92 passes in 2010 as a sophomore. Moe was invited to the NFL Combine in February, but Scouts Inc. does not project him to be drafted this weekend.

Kip Edwards, CB: Edwards, who is Gooden's cousin, was not invited to the NFL Combine, but had a strong showing at Missouri's pro day last month. Edwards was a two-year starter for the Tigers and has NFL-caliber size, but Scouts Inc. does not project him being drafted.

Brad Madison, DE: Madison was converted from offensive line to defensive line before his freshman season, and the move paid dividends when Madison had 7.5 sacks in 2010 as a sophomore. Injuries hampered Madison during his junior year, and he never reached the same level of production. Scouts Inc. does not project him to be drafted this weekend.

Kendial Lawrence, RB: Lawrence was Missouri's most productive running back last season after the Tigers lost starter Henry Josey to a knee injury. He was not expected to be on many draft boards, but has met with a few teams. Scouts Inc. does not project him being drafted.



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He was considering a few Big Ten schools. Wisconsin, perhaps.

But his mother convinced her son to remain a Tiger, to keep working.

Vanessa McGriff-Culver is her son’s biggest fan. She’s his biggest critic, too.

A self-described realist, she has aways had a humbling impact on her son. While friends and teammates lauded McGriff-Culver for standout performances, Vanessa McGriff-Culver pointed out his miscues. If he had 12 tackles, she pointed out six more he missed. If he ran for 100 yards, she saw 100 more he could’ve gained.

Jared McGriff-Culver calls his mother Superwoman, because of her tremendous sports knowledge. He says she knows more about sports than most men he knows.

For Superwoman, though, good isn’t good enough. Superwoman wants greatness. She is the driving force in her son's constant quest for perfection.

She’s very religious, too.

“What God has for you, no one can take from you,” she says. “You’ll have a lot of roadblocks put in front of you, but no one can keep you from that plan.”

She’s just not sure God’s plan for her son involves the National Football League.

***

He played a position the Missouri football team didn’t have.

At 5-foot-11, 250 pounds, Jared McGriff-Culver  is a prototypical fullback. But the Tigers' spread offense needed lightning out of the backfield, not thunder. 

Forty pounds heavier than the next heaviest runner and a few steps slower, he spent his four seasons with Missouri buried on the tailbacks' depth chart. Used predominately as a lead blocker, his only career carries came against FCS foes McNeese State and Western Illinois.

He found his niche as a standout special teams contributor, starting on every unit except one. After three seasons worth of contributions, he was rewarded for his unselfish efforts by being placed on scholarship this past season, his last as a Tiger.

“Everybody’s got to have a role, and every role helps the team,” running backs coach Brian Jones said. “He understood it, and he bought into it. Yes, he wanted to have the ball, but he saw the big picture.”

Jared McGriff-Culver came to see how the situation helped him. 

“I think if I was on scholarship out of high school, I wouldn’t have grown or been as motivated as I was," he said.

"A lot of guys get a scholarship and get complacent and not want to work anymore. But that wasn’t me. Every day I wake up with something to prove because some people (teammates) would still knock me for being a walk-on, it’s like ‘OK, I’m still going to prove you wrong.’”

Jared McGriff-Culver realizes his name doesn’t appear in mock drafts. But he doesn’t need to hear his name announced as a selection during this weekend's NFL Draft, he just needs his phone to ring in the hours after the draft, when teams extend training camp invites to undrafted free agents – the NFL’s version of walk-on players.

“I’m going to take somebody’s spot,” he said. “I’m going to earn a spot, just like I did at Mizzou. Regardless of whether I knock someone’s head off by hitting them so hard or wow them with how smart I am, I’m going to make a coach be like ‘we can’t get rid of him.’"

Failure? Not an option.

“The only time it’s going to become an option is when my mom tells me ‘Look, you need to get a real job and start your real career.’”

***

His parents divorced when he was 4-years old.

Jared McGriff-Culver spent the majority of his childhood at his mother’s house and would visit his father on weekends.

He was too young to remember the divorce, too naïve to understand it. But there was a void in his life. He sought approval. To get it he felt he had to be the best. 

“Sometimes it hurt, you go to practice and a lot of kids have their dads there and mine’s not,” Jared McGriff-Culver said. “We had times as kids where we’d kind of resent him a little bit for not always being there.”

Hard feelings vanished years ago, but the chip-on-the-shoulder mentality remains.

Combined with his relationship with two similarly athletic brothers who also played college football, Jared McGriff-Culver's competitiveness has flourished.

Everything was a competition among the siblings. The trio constantly tried to best each other. It’s an attitude McGriff-Culver still has today. It’s an attitude that goes beyond sports.

“My brother is married now and has a kid,” he said. "I love my little nephew, but I’m going to get married and have a hotter wife and I’m going to have a cooler kid.”

***

His dream was all around him.

Twelve banners hung above him from the roof of MU's Daniel J. Devine Pavilion, each emblazoned with the name and picture of a former Missouri football star now in the NFL.

Forty yards down the green turf, in metal bleachers on each side of him, sat scouts, elbow-to-elbow, each with a stopwatch and notepad in hand and the logo of their respective NFL team stitched on their clothing.  

But Jared McGriff-Culver paid no attention to his surroundings, blocking out the family members, former teammates and scouts gathered at Missouri's pro day back in March. 

He entered a sprinter’s stance, then launched his bulky body forward. About 25 yards down the field, he felt his right hamstring and groin tighten. Then came the pain.

He had strained his hamstring mid-stride. He labored through the finish line, each step more painful than the one before. His recorded time was 4.73 seconds, slower than the 4.65 mark he sought.

The NFL dream he had had since he was six seemed on life-support. This was his big chance to woo the scouts in attendance. The vertical leap, the broad jump and positional drills remained on his itinerary.

Disheartened, Jared McGriff-Culver limped towards the west end of the pavilion, where his father was watching the drills.

“There’s certain things you can’t control,” Ronnie Culver said. “I told him to let God take control and everything else will work itself out.”

Still, Jared McGriff-Culver felt like he was living a nightmare.

"For the first time, I couldn’t really explode and run as fast as I wanted to,” he said. “I thought the dream was over.”

He took his father’s words to heart and finished pro day. He has since recovered from the hamstring strain and has participated in invite-only regional scouting combines in both Chicago and Dallas and also had a private workout with the Chicago Bears.

***

With just weeks to go before the draft, Jared McGriff-Culver sits on a friend’s futon. His demeanor has changed. He’s calmer, he speaks in soft tones.

Days earlier, he spent nearly three hours at a T.G.I. Friday’s with his mother. What are God's plans for him? Is it time to start thinking about "a real job?"

Until this conversation, he hadn't comprehended the emotional toll this weekend will take on his mother.

“It was one of those moments where you get to understand your parent more,” he said. “I started to understand their pain, their joy and how they think about things. I was like ‘Whoa, my mom has to prepare herself as much as I do for a let-down, just in case.’

“She’s going to be more excited than I am if I get it (a roster invite), and will feel as much pain, if not more pain, if I don’t. It was a very sentimental, touching conversation.”

***

What if this weekend comes and goes without an NFL team calling him with an offer?

Maybe he’ll be a substitute teacher in Columbia. Maybe he’ll open and operate a sports complex for youth in Chicago, something he’s aspired to do since high school. Maybe he’ll be a high school football coach, something his mother thinks suits him.

Maybe he’ll play baseball.

Last month, Jared McGriff-Culver, who spent his first year of college playing baseball at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill., was asked by a Tampa Bay Rays scout who noticed his powerful swing in Devine Pavilion if he’d consider giving baseball another chance.

“You never know,” he said with a smile. "I can be a janitor, and she (his mother) will still love me, as long as I’m the best janitor in the country.”

He knows if the NFL says no this weekend, he will, for the first time in his life, accept limitations.

“You can’t play football until you’re 80-years-old,” he said. “Father Time runs out on everybody. And if my time ends after college then OK, cool.

“I’m going to shed a tear if I get a phone call, but there will be less tears shed if I don’t get a phone call than if I do.”

His mother’s eyes will be even wetter.

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.


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