BOZICH | Who's Number One? Bridgewater Wants It In NFL Draft
BRADENTON, Fla. (WDRB) – Make no mistake: Teddy Bridgewater shrugged at the importance of winning the Heisman Trophy last season.
Please, no public relations campaign. No arm-twisting of the University of Louisville coaching staff to let him pad his statistics with monstrous fourth-quarter numbers. Not a peep of disappointment when Bridgewater was not one of the six guys invited to New York City for the Heisman ceremony in December.
Tune in today. What a difference two months makes. Bridgewater is absolutely not shrugging about working 12-hour days to become the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft in May.
"It's just very important because I just feel that my entire life I have worked hard," Bridgewater said.
"When I was in third grade, my Mom and I were riding home from one of my little league practices and I told her, 'When I make it to the NFL, I'm going to buy you a pink Escalade truck with some pink rims.' I just feel that I owe it to my family and my Mom."
Bridgewater has his plan. Bring your running shoes and energy drinks to follow every step, twist, lift and slide. Set your alarm clock for 6 a.m. – every day but Sunday. That is what Bridgewater does. There are multiple all-Americans here, but Bridgewater is the headline prospect in the 28-player NFL Draft preparation class at the prestigious IMG Academy.
I won't say it's not about the money. It's always about the money with every pro athlete. But more than the money, it's about being recognized as the best, better than Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles, the other top quarterback prospects in this draft. Better than Jadeveon Clowney, the dazzling defensive end from South Carolina that many draft gurus project will be the first pick.
"I watched him play on TV all season and I was impressed," said Terrance West, a running back from Towson training at IMG. "But now that I'm with him every day, I'm blown away. Teddy's so smart. He knows the game. He doesn't just know the quarterback position. He knows every position."
If you don't believe that Bridgewater's obsession with being first in the draft differs from his concern about the Heisman, take a trip to the gated IMG Academy that is surrounded by palm trees, tomato fields and apartment complexes on 500 acres near Florida's Gulf Coast.
Be prepared for a long, steamy and demanding day. Bridgewater has serious work to do on his throwing, footwork, strength, agility and other physical skills. Even his diet is scripted. He finished last season at U of L at 196 pounds, so Bridgewater is trying to gain weight, muscular weight. He's refining his interview techniques. He is completing practice tests for the Wonderlic, the 50-question multiple-choice test the NFL requires to gauge the intelligence of its prospects.
Up no later than 6 a.m. Film study after breakfast. Agility drills and sprints around traffic cones at 9. Passing work at 10:30. A short break for lunch. Weight room session from 2-to-4. And then more preparation for the mental demands of the game.
Everybody wants a piece of Bridgewater, but he is trying to limit his media access to one interview per week. WDRB visited last week. USA Today is scheduled for this week. Bridgewater is considering a request from the NFL Network for several weeks of all-access coverage for a special that would air prior to the Draft.
"He's a guy you want leading your team," said Chris Weinke, his coach at IMG. "You're not going to have any issues with this guy. Teddy is the type of guy you want to build around both on and off the field. He is the franchise-type guy that you're willing to put his face on the name of that organization."
The exclamation point will come when Bridgewater's name is called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during the first round May 8 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Only eight former U of L players have been selected in the first round, none higher than defensive lineman Amobi Okoye, who went 10th in 2007.
Bridgewater does not flinch at the hard work. Never has. He said the first time that he told his mother, Rose Murphy, that he was going to the NFL he was 5.
"The day I picked up a football, it was a relief for me," Bridgewater said. "I was always dreaming of myself being on the big stage, making that big play."
That was kid stuff. Millions of kids do that. Bridgewater said that when he entered Miami Northwestern High School he told himself that it could actually happen, that it wasn't simply some crazy scheme an elementary school kid has written with a crayon.
The only thing that interrupted the dream came when Bridgewater was a high school freshman. His Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. His older brother and two older sisters were out of the house. Rose Murphy had to step away from her job working in the transportation department at the Miami-Dade County Schools.
So Teddy stepped forward.
"I was just ready to give up everything," Bridgewater said. "Just work, mow lawns, wash cars. I even stopped going to school (for two weeks), stopped going to practice just to be by her side.
"She told me, ‘I want you to play sports. That's an outlet for our entire family. God has blessed you with your talent so use it to the best of your abilities.'
"So each day I go out there, I just focus on everything that my Mom has been through and everything that I'm out to accomplish … Just looking back at my Mom, I put everything in one category and I compare it to what my Mom went through."
You know what Bridgewater accomplished at the University of Louisville, passing the ball with precision while leading the Cards to 23 wins over the last two seasons, leading the nation in completion percentage last season. He was always a team guy. But these next three months are about accomplishing something for himself and his family, especially his Mom, who has beaten breast cancer.
Don't look for another top quarterback prospect at IMG's sprawling high-tech complex. It is a crowded, bustling place, with its own high school. IMG is also home to golfers, soccer, lacrosse and basketball players and young tennis prodigies from across the world. Tennis is the sport that put the place on the map when Nick Bollettieri opened it more than three decades ago and then developed stars like Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Jim Courier.
You'll see plenty of elite football players. You'll move for cover when jumbo linebackers like C.J. Mosley of Alabama or Ryan Shazier of Ohio State sprint past you. You'll wonder how any defensive players ever get around mountainous offensive linemen like Zach Martin (Notre Dame) or Taylor Lewan (Michigan). Those guys are likely first-round picks and they're also training at IMG.
But only two of the 28 prospects are quarterbacks – Bridgewater and Jacob Karam of Memphis, who is likely to go undrafted.
Bridgewater sought IMG and Weinke, the coach who worked with Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson before Seattle drafted him two years ago. A former Heisman Trophy winner, Weinke made his name with Cam Newton of Auburn. Newton arrived as one of the candidates for the first pick. He left IMG as the guy Carolina selected first in the 2011 Draft. Bridgewater considered five-star training sites in Phoenix and Southern California.
But he wanted to be Weinke's guy.
It is likely not a coincidence that Manziel and Bortles of Central Florida are training at other facilities.
"He's a sponge for knowledge," Weinke said. "He asks a lot of the right questions. He wants to get better. He recognizes his deficiencies and we're working on those things. There's not a whole lot of question marks around Teddy. And I think that's a good thing."
Bridgewater lives in a small apartment on the IMG campus, navigating the facility in his own golf cart. The routine never varies – except workouts are limited to a half-day on Saturday with a complete day of rest on Sunday. During his off time, Bridgewater recently picked an agent – Kennard McGuire of suburban Houston, who also represents NFL stars Andre Johnson, Vince Wolfork and Brandon Marshall. Last weekend Bridgewater and his Mom enjoyed a big lasagna dinner at the home of former Cardinal Damian Copeland, who lives in Sarasota.
The mock NFL Draft boards are split on the likely first selection – Manziel, Bortles, Clowney, Bridgewater and several others are all possibilities, depending upon whether Houston keeps or trades the first selection.
Bridgewater and Weinke are not worried about the Internet chatter, that Bridgewater needs to gain more weight and answer questions about his durability. They are working on that. But Weinke, a former first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, understands it's all part of the process. Every player is poked and doubted. Every player.
Two moments matter to them – Bridgewater's performance at the NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 23 in Indianapolis as well his showing at the University of Louisville's pro day March 17 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Weinke will script everything Bridgewater does during those two workouts and make both trips with the quarterback.
"He's right on track," Weinke said. "We feel good with where he's at physically. I think he'll pass all the tests."
After the draft, Bridgewater will begin his professional career by delivering that gift that he promised his now healthy mother long ago – the pink Cadillac Escalade with pink rims.
"It's a great feeling knowing that your hard work is finally going to pay off," Bridgewater said. "It's a dream come true."
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