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interesting article on Austin

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interesting article on Austin

Post  Big_Pete on Sun May 15, 2011 7:52 am

Former coaches insist New York Giants draft pick Marvin Austin is a quality kid despite big mistake

BY Ralph Vacchiano
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

Saturday, May 14th 2011, 5:58 PM

Marvin Austin impressed in the East-West Shrine game and the NFL combine in February but North Carolina defensive tackle fell into the second round of draft because of suspension senior year.
North Carolina head coach Butch Davis went to great lengths to tell all 32 NFL teams about the quality of Marvin Austin's character.

North Carolina head coach Butch Davis went to great lengths to tell all 32 NFL teams about the quality of Marvin Austin's character.

It's been more than a year, but Butch Davis still remembers every detail of the day he had to break Marvin Austin's heart. He remembers sitting with him in his staff room in Chapel Hill, N.C. He remembers the anxiety he felt, the sad look on Austin's face.

The head coach at the University of North Carolina also remembers thinking how unjust it seemed that he was about to take away the college career of a player he considered to be a genuinely good kid.

"He's not a bad guy," says Davis. "Marvin doesn't drink, he doesn't do drugs. He doesn't do any of that. He made a bad choice."

Moe Ware thought the same thing when he heard the news. He was Austin's high school coach and he remembered his star player helped raise his younger sister, Jenae, how he'd leave school to pick her up from day care, then bring her back to Coolidge High School in southeast Washington D.C., for his football practice.

It was a huge responsibility for a teenage boy, especially in a rough neighborhood. He never missed a practice. Ware doesn't even think he was ever late.

"At that young age, kids can come up with plenty of excuses not to be at practice on time," says Ware. "He showed a strong sense of family and a strong sense of responsibility.

"I just know him to be a guy of higher character. I just know he's a quality kid."

* * *

Maybe that's all true about the 6-foot-2, 312-pound Austin, the defensive tackle the Giants selected in the second round of the NFL draft. But if it is, then the true nature of his character was lost in the rubble of an NCAA investigation that resulted in Austin and two teammates getting kicked off their college team. He was caught making at least four trips - two to California, two to Florida - that were reportedly paid for by agents and former college teammates. An investigation by his own school concluded the improper benefits may have been worth as much as $13,000.

The scandal left Austin "red-flagged" on NFL draft boards. Word then traveled fast about a few minor legal transgressions, and the two times he was temporarily benched at the end of the 2008 season for being late to class.

In time, a picture was painted of the 23-year-old that caused all 32 NFL teams to interrogate and investigate Davis. Though Davis was, by all accounts, a first-round talent - some scouts put him easily in the Top 15 - all 32 teams let him slide on the first day of the draft. He kept sliding all the way until the second day when the Giants took him with the 52nd pick.

"I went from being one of the top players and prospects in the nation to being a guy that is not even talked about," Austin said at the February combine in Indianapolis. "It made you put things in perspective a lot more."

Davis' perspective on Austin is that he's "like a giant teddy bear." The first word he uses to describe him is "gregarious." He remembers the flashy outfits and big sunglasses Austin used to wear, and the big smile he always had on his face. Ware remembers all that, too.

"They call that swag, man," says Ware, an assistant when Austin was at Coolidge, then his head coach at Ballou High School for Austin's senior year. "People don't understand that and they start perceiving him a different way, because he's so unique in how he dresses and how he presents himself. There's a misperception of him that isn't reality."

On the football field, there were never any misperceptions. Not only was Austin a dominant athlete, who Ware says "elevated every program he ever went to" from middle school through college, but he was smart, too. When Davis began recruiting him to UNC he was "amazed at how much he actually knew about defensive linemen." He had already studied the greats and tried to emulate their moves.

The whole package put him on the fast track to the NFL. No one cared much about the twin benchings in 2008, his sophomore season. There likely wouldn't have even been much concern over a misdemeanor noise ordinance violation either, or tickets for driving without a registration and driving with tinted windows before his senior year.

Then everything unraveled. He was suspended "indefinitely" before his senior season for still unspecified violations of team rules. Then came the NCAA investigation, an investigation by the North Carolina secretary of state, and before he knew it red flags were everywhere.

As Davis sat there that day telling Austin his college career was over, he still kept thinking it just wasn't right. He's had bad kids come through his program before. Austin wasn't one of them. He wasn't a bad character, Davis thought, he just made a bad mistake.

"He was just one of those kids that fell victim to the idea of 'What can you do?' and 'What can you not do?'" Davis says. "He thought he could go and take a trip with a former teammate and if that guy is going to pay for the trip, it's kind of a 'No harm, no foul' concept in his mind."

The NCAA didn't agree, and as soon as his eligibility was revoked, the stories and rumors about what Austin did and who he was grew, uncontrollably. There was gossip about lavish gifts given to Austin and his North Carolina teammates, rumors of wild parties that even reached his own home.

"Then I had to sit and listen to my little sister ask me, 'Marvin, I heard you were drinking,' when I'm trying to tell her that you don't have to do all that, you don't have to go with that crowd. So it was an extremely tough situation."

* * *

Austin spent his year off wisely, first letting his body heal and then resumed his training, mostly in Tampa, Fla. Through most of his exile, he remained in contact with Davis, who kept reminding him of all he'd have to overcome.

"I said 'You've got to erase all that.' And I think he did a phenomenal job."

Austin's original coming-out party, when he reminded the NFL world of just how good he was, was the East-West Shrine Game in Orlando in January. He was dominant, at times, during the week of practice, and surprised scouts with his excellent condition after missing a full season. He even scored a touchdown after recovering a fumble late in the game.

One good week wasn't enough, though. Davis, determined to help write a positive ending to Austin's story, spent countless hours over the next few months doing damage control for his former player, fielding inquiries on Austin's character from all 32 NFL teams.

"The character question always came up," says Davis. "And I said 'Look, this kid busts his butt at practice, he plays hard, he made a bad decision.' In my own personal opinion there are different types of character flaws. None of this stuff has anything to do with arrests or felonies or all of the charges that you see proliferating through the NFL. No domestic violence issues. Marvin doesn't drink, he doesn't do drugs, he doesn't do any of that.

"He made a bad choice. He paid an enormously heavy price. That was tough. But I think it's a one-time thing."

The Giants seem to think it is, though GM Jerry Reese admits that "obviously, when he gets here, we'll keep a close eye on him like some other players we've had in the past." Reese spoke at length with Austin before the draft. So did Tom Coughlin and some of his assistants. They came away convinced Austin was worth the risk.

"I think he was very remorseful," Reese says. "He made a bad decision. He was really disappointed that he let his teammates down and his school down, that he wasn't there to help them play and win more games. This guy is going to come in here with a chip on his shoulder with something to prove."

Adds Coughlin: "He wants the opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong."

Ware, now an assistant coach at Bowie (Md.) State, believes that Austin will. He's still stunned by how many times his former star was passed over in the draft, especially for some players he says have actual character flaws. Those are decisions Ware believes many NFL teams will quickly come to regret.

"A 'character kid' is a kid who is always in trouble," Ware says. "A kid who made mistakes? We've all made mistakes. And when you're playing college football, the mistakes are magnified.

"But if you're building a team and you want guys with high character, good work ethic, I think you're a fool to pass up on him."
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