There are no more secrets in the NFL Draft

Posted Sunday, Apr. 22, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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Amini Silatolu wasn't highly recruited out of high school, and he couldn't qualify academically at Nevada after playing at San Joaquin Delta College.

So he ended up at Midwestern State and this week will become the school's first NFL Draft choice.

Silatolu, like so many before him, proves small-school players can reach the big time.

"I just know that if you put him at Oklahoma or Texas, he'd do the same things at Oklahoma or Texas that he did here," Midwestern State coach Bill Maskill said.

Midwestern State, with an enrollment of 6,182, is in Wichita Falls, which has a population of 101,000. Silatolu is the big man on campus, and not just because he's 6-foot-4, 311 pounds.

All 32 NFL teams have scouted him, and he visited 10 teams, including the Dallas Cowboys.

Silatolu, 23, could hear his name in the first round despite playing Division II football.

"The whole process has been crazy," Silatolu said in a phone interview Friday. "Coming from a small school, I never thought I would get highly looked at by all these teams. It was overwhelming at first, but I got used to it. It's all downhill from here."

The Cowboys were the first team to figure out gems can be found at out-of-the-way, no-name schools. In earlier years, Dallas devoted one scout to historically black colleges and another to other small schools.

Cliff Harris (Ouachita Baptist), Rayfield Wright (Fort Valley State), Bob Hayes (Florida A&M), Everson Walls (Grambling), Harvey Martin (East Texas State), Cornell Green (Utah State), Jethro Pugh (Elizabeth City State), Thomas Henderson (Langston), Herb Scott (Virginia Union) and Too Tall Jones (Tennessee State) are among the finds who helped the Cowboys become America's Team.

"We got a lot of good guys [out of small schools]," said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' former player personnel director.

These days, it is rare that a Kurt Warner slips through the cracks.

"I just think information has advanced," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We live in a different time than we did even five or 10 years ago. It's harder to hide these guys, so to speak, and that's good for the player."

This year, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (Regina), inside linebacker Shawn Loiseau (Merrimack), cornerback Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina), defensive back Justin Bethel (Presbyterian), receiver Brian Quick (Appalachian State), defensive back Trumaine Johnson (Montana), cornerback Ryan Steed (Furman), cornerback Chris Greenwood (Albion) and offensive tackle Tom Compton (South Dakota) are among small-school players who have a chance to become the next Larry Allen, Darrell Green, Jerry Rice or Walter Payton.

As Bethel said, "If you're a player, you're a player; they will find you."

"I think we do a lot better job now covering the smaller schools than we used to," Arizona Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. "It doesn't mean some small-school kids don't get overlooked. I won't say that doesn't happen. But I think the league does a much better job paying attention what comes out of the smaller schools.

"We have a number of them that have come in and proved they can hang with the big boys."

Silatolu is the most intriguing of the players who never played at a Division I school. He has run a 5.33 in the 40, had 28 reps in the 225-pound bench press, and had a 32-inch vertical.

Silatolu was first noticed after his first season at Midwestern State when he earned Little All-America and AFCA All-America honors. Scouts started putting Wichita Falls on their itineraries.

"When we recruited him, I knew he was a good player," Maskill said. "When he went through his first year, he proved he was a good player. But I still don't think we knew he was that good. But all of a sudden, we got all of this attention last fall with two, five, 10 scouts a day in here, and sometimes three and four from the same team over the course of the year.

"It's a reward for a guy who has dedicated himself to being the best he can be."

Charean Williams, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @NFLCharean

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