As he made the tough decision whether to return to Marshall for his senior season, quarterback Chase Litton reached out to the NFL's advisory committee, which gives underclassmen a sense of where they're likely to be drafted should they leave early.
"Usually they come back first (round), second or go back to school. Mine ended up coming back, 'Go back to school,' " said Litton, a former standout at Wharton High who had started for three years for the Thundering Herd.
Despite that warning, Litton chose to enter the draft, and he'll be one of 19 quarterbacks participating in the NFL combine in Indianapolis next week, hoping to solidify himself as a draft pick. Only 10 were drafted last year, and this year has a deep quarterback class, potentially with four in the top 10 picks overall.
Litton said he put a lot of time and thought into his decision, made with the support of his family. He went in with confidence, which was reinforced after conversations he had with NFL scouts.
"I talked to a couple of scouts and GMs from certain teams, and the feedback I got from them was positive, very positive," he said. "I knew heading into it that I was a junior, coming from a smaller school, but I believe in my ability and believe I can do this. I can make that jump, go to the NFL and be able to lead men."
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Litton, 22, has good size at 6-foot-6, 232 pounds, and he's had an up-and-down three years at Marshall. He went 9-2 as a freshman, leading the team to victory at the St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field. He went 3-7 as a sophomore, but started the 2017 season well, throwing for 13 touchdowns against just three interceptions in leading his team to a 6-1 start. The Herd lost four of its next five, and he had nearly as many interceptions (11) as touchdowns (12) in his final six games, closing out on a positive note with two touchdown passes in a win in the New Mexico Bowl.
Asked his favorite memory from his Marshall days, he points to a win against Middle Tennessee State during a disappointing 2016 season. The school recognized the anniversary of the 1970 crash of the football team's charter plane that killed 75 people. Wearing black jerseys with a memorial 75 on their helmets, Litton threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-17 home win.
"Just that atmosphere, walking out there in all black with the 75 on our helmet, the way that team came together through the ups and downs of the whole season, it was fun," he said. "It was for that team, for those 75 and for that community."
Litton has never had a traditional path in football. A coveted recruit early on at Wharton, he was arrested as a sophomore on burglary and theft charges, but completed a pre-trial diversionary program to get those charges dropped. He had committed to take a scholarship to USF in 2014, but backed out of that commitment, sitting out that fall and winding up at Marshall in the spring of 2015.
He's been training for the past month at EXOS in Carlsbad, Calif., with some of the top prospects in the entire draft, including potential top-10 picks like N.C. State pass rusher Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, as well as University of Texas at San Antonio pass rusher Marcus Davenport.
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"Having those guys around you, guys who are on the same mission, is awesome," Litton said of the high level of talent he's training with.
Litton is working on the physical measurables that can carry so much weight in the draft process, but also addressing other transitions — he must show he's comfortable under center after playing in shotgun in college.
His touchdowns and yards went up in each of his three seasons at Marshall, but so too did his interceptions, from eight to nine to 14 this past season.
"I can put the ball wherever I want to put it," said Litton, who completed at least 60 percent of his passes in each of his three seasons.
He'll transition quickly from the combine next week to Marshall's pro day, which is March 7, relatively early in the timetable before the draft. His parents moved to Parrish, east of Bradenton, but his father has a new job in Wesley Chapel so they'll be moving back to the area. He expects to be back in Tampa to watch the draft with his family in late April.
"Once I knew I had their support regardless of what I did, I knew I was going to make the right decision," he said. "I'm prepared for this and I've waited for this and I'm very confident. Being able to support my family has always been something I've wanted to do."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.