For former Florida State star receiver Preston Parker, the NFL scouting combine isn't so much about tenths of a second in a sprint but second chances in his life.
"I'm just happy to have the opportunity because I've been through a lot of stuff," he said.
There was his arrest in late 2006 for shoplifting a $9.99 DVD from a Tallahassee Best Buy. There was the arrest in Palm Beach Gardens in April 2008 for carrying a concealed handgun (a felony later reduced to a misdemeanor in a plea deal) and possession of 4.81 grams of marijuana. And there was his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs Jan. 31, 2009, when Tallahassee police found him asleep in his idling car in a McDonald's drive-through.
That ended his Seminoles career a couple of days later.
That could have derailed his NFL dreams.
"You know how they say, 'Young and dumb?' I was young and making bad decisions," he said recently. "I'm just ready to prove to the world I can come back from ground zero."
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Parker, 23, a Delray Beach Atlantic High standout, blossomed as a sophomore at FSU in 2007. He could catch. He could run (pressed into starting at tailback against Maryland with all three scholarship backs injured and rushed for 133 yards). He could return punts. He could throw the ball.
He was a highlight show waiting to happen.
"He's a heck of a player," FSU quarterback Christian Ponder said. "He's got a lot of tools. Obviously he's fast. He's quick. He's got great hands. I really think he loves the game. … He's a great kid who made some bad decisions that hurt him, but he always meant well."
Terry Bowden, in his first year as coach at Division II North Alabama, offered Parker another chance after his dismissal from FSU. A chance that came with a caveat: One mistake, any mistake, and he was done there.
"I knew what I had to do, and I knew I couldn't make any more bad decisions because that's what led to me getting in trouble the last time," Parker said. "Decisions to go to this party or give my friends a ride led to something bad.
"I just made sure I didn't make any crazy decisions."
He had promised to do that after his plea deal in the gun case, stressing that he realized then how his life "could be easily ruined over nonsense and a lack of focus."
It was different at North Alabama. He went to class and did well. (He's about a semester shy of earning his degree and said he will return to get it.) He passed drug tests. He even served on the athletic director's student advisory committee.
"What I was most proud of is he did exactly what he said he was going do," said Bowden, the son of Parker's former coach at FSU, Bobby Bowden. "He had an outstanding year for us (on the field), and he showed he can mind himself; he showed he can make responsible decisions."
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Had he put up the numbers at FSU that he did last season at North Alabama (52 catches, 789 yards, six touchdowns), Parker just might be among the top receivers mentioned for this year's NFL draft.
He isn't. But that's before the combine begins Wednesday.
To help improve his stock, Parker has been working with renowned trainer Tony Villani at XPE Sports, whose client list has included Hines Ward, Randy Moss and Jamal Lewis.
"We know what he did at Florida State and the potential he displayed there," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "The speed, the athleticism, the interview process is very critical for these kids, especially a player who leaves Florida State to go to North Alabama."
Villani, who has known Parker for three years, said the player has matured (he's spending time talking to and mentoring underprivileged kids in South Florida) and truly, finally, recognizes that this is perhaps a final chance.
"I'm 100 percent convinced he's changed, but I'm not the one he's got to convince," he said.
"I'm ready to perform like everybody knows I can, and I just want to perform with a clean slate, get all the interviews out of the way and let them know what I've learned and what I went through and how much I've progressed from all of that," Parker said. "I just want to put out a good name for myself."
Around the league
BEARS: Tight end Richard Angulo and wide receiver Eric Peterman agreed to one-year contracts.
CARDINALS: Donnie Henderson was named defensive backs coach.
DOLPHINS: Cornerback Will Allen was released on bail after his arrest over the weekend on an accusation of drunken driving in Miami Beach.
JAGUARS: Veteran tight end Ernest Wilford re-signed to a one-year contract worth the veteran minimum of $630,000. He would have become an unrestricted free agent next week.
PATRIOTS: The team put the franchise tag on Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork, providing more time to negotiate a long-term contract. The six-year veteran is on a non-exclusive tag, according to ESPN.com, meaning the team has the right to match any team's offer or let Wilfork go for two first-round draft picks.
JURISPRUDENCE: Attorneys selected a jury and will deliver opening statements today in the case of Willie Clark, who is accused of firing the fatal shots into the limousine of Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams on New Year's Day 2007.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.