LUMBERTON — Dale Godfrey’s especially busy this time of year.
It’s crunch time for the Lumberton-based attorney who’s representing three University of North Carolina at Pembroke football players hoping to hear their names called during the during the 2014 NFL Draft on the first weekend in May.
Godfrey’s clients — Te’Vell Williams, Marquell Rozier and Fred Williams — are each cut from the same mold as team leaders with a professional-level work ethic according to their agent, a St. Pauls native who was recently certified by the NFLPA to begin work as a first-year contract advisor.
Godfrey works out of his law office inside Bowen and Berry and has directed his focus toward increasing the Braves’ overall reach to team personnel, scouts and general managers. He’s kept a close eye on the program since football returned to UNCP in 2006 and says this year’s crop of draft-eligible players is the most skilled he’s seen.
“The football program in Pembroke is fairly new, but they’re consistently beating teams that are producing NFL players,” Godfrey said. “I’ve always thought if they’re beating teams like Valdosta State and Winston-Salem State, clearly Pembroke has players that are just as good.
“I just think the exposure isn’t there because they are a new program and sort of flying under the radar. The NFL’s filled with Division I-AA and DII players and these guys could be the next crop to make a roster.”
For UNCP’s draft hopefuls, spring break won’t arrive until after they’ve signed a deal with a pro franchise. Since the season ended, each player has sculpted their bodies at various training facilities across the southeast to become more attractive to potential suitors.
Godfrey’s job is to market clients and build a brand complete with highlight packages and bios for all 32 teams.
Te’Vell Williams appreciates his efforts.
“From my training exercises, I’ve noticed that a lot of Division II players are diamonds in the dirt waiting to be found,” said Williams, UNCP’s single-season record holder for receptions, yards and touchdown catches. “We don’t get the exposure the DI guys get. Honestly, I think that makes us hungrier with a stronger work ethic. We’re ready to play however and wherever we can.”
Work ethic yields success
Te’Vell Williams is coming off the most productive season by a receiver in school history, setting new program highs in receptions, yards and touchdown catches. He’s a two-time team and offensive MVP for the Braves who has spent the last six weeks finishing up a training program at Bommarito Performance Systems, an athlete conditioning facility in Davie, Fla.
Williams has used the last month and a half to shed a few tenths off his 40, add 10 pounds to his slender frame and improve on the field alongside NFL running backs Frank Gore and Giovanni Bernard who also train during the offseason at BPS.
One of UNCP’s fastest players, Williams expects to run sub-4.5 on Saturday at the NFL Regional Combine hosted by the Miami Dolphins at the franchise’s practice facility. A strong performance there would grant him an invite to the Super Regional Combine at Ford Field in Detroit on April 12.
NFL scouts and player personnel staff will be in attendance at both events.
“I’m in the high 4.4’s now, but I want to get in the 4.42-4.43 range,” said Williams who also has a 37.5-inch vertical. “I think what will really open a lot of scouts’ eyes is my 10-yard start off the line. Scouts will notice my explosiveness which is very important for a receiver at the next level facing press coverage.”
The standout receiver says he’s willing to help a franchise at any position on the field if given the opportunity, but hopes his work ethic and individual workouts proves he’s a threat on the outside.
At Pine Forest High in Fayetteville, Williams was one of Cumberland County’s top special teams players but didn’t see as much action in the return game during college since the Braves relied heavily on his route-running abilities and sure hands in the passing game.
Williams had Division I talent as a prep senior, but didn’t have the grades to qualify. He made the most of his opportunity in Pembroke and recently set a new facility record in the three-cone drill at BPS.
“I was privileged and blessed enough to be on TV three times and have three pretty good games this season,” Williams said. “Hopefully some of the scouts saw that. We don’t get much national exposure or a chance to showcase our talents in (Division II). We have to constantly work on getting better and then proving our worth when we have the chance.”
Williams refers back to one of the greatest players in league history sharpening his skills at Mississippi Valley State as motivation coming from a small school.
“Jerry Rice was a great player, but he was always working to get better and NFL teams took notice of that,” Williams said. “The great ones are always the first to arrive and last to leave.”
Fred Williams, a sixth-year senior who leaves UNCP as the school’s all-time leading tackler with 318 career stops, turns 24 on May 18 and is one of the oldest draft-eligible players at his position. He was a multi-year captain for now-head coach Shane Richardson’s defense during his career and is another draft hopeful with local roots after playing his prep ball at Terry Sanford in Fayetteville.
“Overall, Fred’s numbers are just as good as (Buffalo linebacker) Khalil Mack’s and Mack is going in the Top 5,” Godfrey said.
Williams was picked third overall by the Cleveland Patriots in February’s American Indoor Football Draft but says he doesn’t plan on pursuing a contract in the arena league. The film expert’s been working out with Rozier — picked 14th by the Cape Fear Heroes the same night — in Charlotte over the last five weeks.
“I can bring hard work and leadership to a professional team,” Williams said. “Knowing it takes the smaller things to make the big picture run smoothly has helped me during my career. My footwork and breaking down film to the point of knowing what teams like to do in certain situations are my strengths.”
Williams feels that his game tape should be the chief indicator that he’s ready to compete at the next level. He’s been able to rub elbows and pick up tips in recent weeks from Raiders linebacker Marshall McFadden, Rafael Bush of the New Orleans Saints and former first-round pick Aaron Curry.
“I feel like I’m in the Top 5 for Division II linebackers, but I haven’t received a lot of interest,” Williams said. “It’s a lot harder for players coming from a school the size of UNCP to impress scouts. Teams are more comfortable drafting players from schools that already have established players in the NFL.”
Undrafted free agent route
For Godfrey’s clients, a post-draft free agent deal could be their best bet. As an undrafted free agent, rookies have more flexibility and can agree to terms with teams that best fit their needs.
There’s always a highly-competitive fight for roster spots during training camp with drafted players, but it gives the lesser-known athlete a chance to show what he’s got against professional competition.
“In the later rounds, teams choose players based on the best available instead of team needs,” Godfrey said. “
In recent years locally, former Wingate linebacker and Purnell Swett grad Kenwin Cummings signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and appeared on the active roster several times before finishing out his career a few years later in Dallas.
Hutch Eckerson, a Shrine Bowl tackle at Lumberton and eventual contributor at South Carolina, entered the NFL undrafted in 2011 after inking a deal with San Diego. He spent the following year in New Orleans before being signed by Buffalo last spring.
“I don’t want to be a seventh round pick and go to a team with eight or nine linebackers,” said Fred Williams. “As a free agent, you get to see what teams are offering and you have a chance to do your homework and look at the depth chart to see your best shot at making the roster. You get to pick the best situation.”
Teams hoping to double down on a late-round offensive lineman with potential could use Rozier according to Godfrey, the Braves’ biggest player this past season at 6-foot-7, 360 pounds. The St. Pauls native who graded out as one of the team’s best blockers starred at Bethune-Cookman and was named All-MEAC before transferring to Pembroke for his final season.
He spent last weekend at Velocity Sports in Charlotte training alongside South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney — a projected Top 3 pick by nearly every draft expert — and 24 other college hopefuls.
“Seeing a player like that with special abilities makes you want to work harder to get to that level,” Rozier said. “I’m a couple inches taller than him and have played against guys my whole career his size. We all play the same game. He’s just made plays against bigger schools with more talent than most (players) at his position.”
Rozier started at guard for the Braves but says tackle is his natural position. Slimming down has been his primary offseason goal after receiving advice from scouts representing the Packers, Raiders and Giants after playing in the USA Football Bowl in Hoover, Ala., in January.
“Cleaning up my mechanics and footwork has become very important for me,” Rozier said. “If I can get down to the weight I want to be, I can become more explosive. If I’m picked up by a team, they’re getting a player that can play multiple positions along the (offensive) line and someone who won’t be a distraction.”
Godfrey says Rozier will likely attend Georgia or North Carolina’s Pro Day in April while Te’Vell and Fred Williams get their shot to impress scouts this weekend in Miami.
If any of the three are drafted or signed as a free agent, it’ll be a first for UNCP football.
“From the feedback I’ve received from scouts at these faculties who have trained the best of the best, they’ve all told me these three guys are NFL-caliber players,” Godfrey said. “Te’Vell’s even seen his name in the later rounds in a few recent mock drafts. Regardless, I think these guys have a bright future on and off the field.”
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.