Each of the 300 plus NFL Combine invitees have their own individual stories. Some have ultra-popularity and have led their teams and won on the highest level like Florida’s Tim Tebow and some are almost completely under the radar and just looking to get noticed like Fresno State’s Seyi Ajirotutu. Among those 300 or so prospective professional football players trying to impress the scouts are Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount and Cincinnati’s Marshawn "Mardy" Gilyard.
Both Blount and Gilyard are more infamous than famous, as they are trying to overcome past mistakes to show that they can achieve their dreams as NFL stars.
LeGarrette Blount had what is known as the new “shot heard round the world” as he blasted Boise State linebacker Byron Hout with a right hand following the Oregon Ducks season opening loss at Boise State. Hout was seemingly taunting Blount on the field after the game and Blount lost his cool.
"I should have handled that situation a lot better than I did," Blount said following the incident. "I apologize. We will never have a game like this again. … The game, as it went on, just got more frustrating and more frustrating for me in general. I shouldn't have said anything. I shouldn't have done anything."
What made the situation even worse was that the game was nationally televised as it was the season opener and first big game of the 2009 season between two ranked teams. Blount was suspended for the season, but worked his way back to the team and was reinstated for the regular season finale against rival Oregon State.
"After a thorough review of the situation, I am convinced LeGarrette Blount paid a significant and appropriate price for the mistakes he made on the field, and that he has learned important life-long lessons,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said.
“When I got suspended for the season, it was shocking and heartbreaking,” Blount said. “I did everything they asked me to do to come back.”
The 6’2”, 240 pound back has run over and avoided opposing tacklers during his Oregon career, but he hasn’t been able to dodge the barrage of questions that he’s faced from the media and NFL teams.
“I made a mistake and I’m putting it behind me,” the former Oregon Duck said.
So how is he doing in front of the scouts?
“These NFL coaches, they really don’t tell you how you’re doing,” Blount told Scout.com’s Tim Yotter. “They just kind of keep it to themselves so they’re not really telling me how well I’m doing.”
With Blount’s fantastic Senior Bowl performance, as he gained 36 yards on just seven carries including a 14-yard touchdown scamper, and a good set of workouts, this former collegiate “pariah” can recapture the momentum he lost with just one crisp right hand back in August.
Marshawn Gilyard didn’t perform his indiscretions in front of the entire college football viewing public as LeGarrette Blount did, but his redemption story is every bit as intriguing. The former Cincinnati wide receiver grew up in the rural area of Bunnell, Florida, roughly 25 minutes north of Daytona Beach and developed some poor habits growing up.
“I was never good at school, I never really worked very hard or tried very hard growing up,” Gilyard said.
His affinity for taking the easy route may have cost him a national championship as University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer took a trip from Gainesville to visit Gilyard at Flagler Palm Coast High School one day, but Gilyard was skipping school.
Gilyard decided to go to college at upstart Cincinnati, but his poor work habits followed him there as he missed classes and became academically ineligible. His scholarship was pulled and he was stuck in a place far from home without the ability to play football or even find housing as he was forced to leave his residence and live in his car.
Marshawn Gilyard was at a crossroads in his life.
“It took me from a kid that felt like he was full -- from a kid that felt like I was everything and anything to football in Cincinnati -- to someone that didn’t have anything at all,” Gilyard said. “I was homeless in the city. I lost my scholarship. I got evicted from my house. With that all in mind, I had to find faith and myself. I had to grow up. I was a real knucklehead kid. Arrogant, cocky, immature. I had to grow up, so that helped me out a lot. I wouldn’t change it for nothing.”
After finding no consolation from his family for his actions, Gilyard was forced to grow up and be a man.
“I lived out of my car,” Gilyard said. “I lived in various spots out of the city. Worked four jobs. That was the easiest rent I had to pay.”
What kind of jobs?
“I was a cook at an Italian restaurant, I sold kitchen cutlery, I was a delivery driver for pizza and worked construction.”
Bearcats coach Brian Kelly told Gilyard that if he could pay back his student loans and completely change his work ethic he could get his scholarship back.
“Coach Kelly had the scholarship paperwork signed, but he wouldn’t let me have it until I did what I needed to do,” Gilyard professed.
Gilyard earned his way back to school and back to the team and promptly became one of the most dangerous wideouts in college football as he caught 168 passes for 2,467 yards and 23 touchdowns over his final two seasons. Gilyard and quarterback Tony Pike helped lead this former “basketball school” to an undefeated regular season and Big East title as seniors.
“When I first got to Cincinnati, we had hardly any fans at the stadium,” Gilyard said. “This past year, you couldn’t find a ticket and we really felt the love.”
Gilyard continued his fine play as he was named Senior Bowl MVP with five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
NFL teams know what they see about his game on film, but they want to know about Mardy the person.
“They ask you in a sly way, like what happened in 2006,” Gilyard explained. “I go about telling them straight up this is what happened. This is how I did it. I made a mistake and a lot of teams thank you for not having to pull and pluck that out of you. It shows I’m not hiding anything.”
Both Mardy Gilyard and LeGarrette Blount have faced the media and team scrutiny for their past indiscretions and are now looking to make amends on the football field for whichever teams decide to take a chance on these talented, but flawed prospects.