MOBILE, Ala. — Lions WR coach Shawn Jefferson sat in his hotel room, wondering if any players would take him up on his offer to spend some extra time studying to prepare for Saturday's Senior Bowl.
At 9 p.m. on Monday night, his phone began to ring. Just two of the six receivers Jefferson is coaching for the North team this week — Clemson's Jacoby Ford and Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard — dialed him after that first day of practice.
"(Gilyard) came down to my room; he wanted to go through the playbook again for an hour," Jefferson, who played receiver for 13 NFL seasons, said. "So, this kid, he loves football and he cares. It's important to him. He's a competitor. I like that.
"I was glad (he called). I told him, 'Hey, if you guys need anything, call me, I'll meet with you.' Boom. He and Ford came up, and we met for about an hour. The thing I like about (Gilyard) is he's resilient. He'll battle his ass off for you.
"He's been my leader out here. He really has. I like that kid. I think he's got a chance."
The first day of practice didn't go so well for Gilyard. He dropped several passes in front of a crowd of NFL general managers, head coaches and personnel evaluators, and it bothered him. The youngest of nine kids, Gilyard took full advantage of the opportunity to lean on an NFL coach to help him work out the "kinks."
"I meet with Coach (Jefferson) every day and I try to figure out what I did wrong, things I can do better, things of that sort," the 23-year-old said. "So, I love Coach Jefferson. He shoots it to me straight just like my brothers do. If I'm bad, he says, 'Hey, man, you were crappy today.' If I was good, he'll be like, 'Hey, you had a good day, you need to continue that.'
"So I'm glad I have a coach that doesn't sugarcoat anything."
Gilyard, however, has seen much more difficult times than a bad day of practice. The former Bearcat lost his scholarship in 2006 after doing poorly in classes and was homeless and living out of his car at times as he worked three jobs to prove himself again. He re-earned the scholarship and made 168 catches for 2,467 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Cincinnati.
He points to tattoos on each of his biceps when asked about what helped him get through that adversity. On the right, "Let go" is tattooed, and the left biceps reads "Let God."
"I let go and let God, man," he said. "That's my motto. I wore it on my arm all year. I wore it on my cleats all year. I had an opportunity to get it tattooed on me, so I did so. What that means is, it's prayer. Prayer is powerful, man. Once you pray, you let go. That's what the part is on my right arm; that's the strongest arm, and that's the strongest part of me. My prayer. And then you let God. This is my helping arm. That's the man that helps me a lot, so I let God work, and that's the main thing. You let go and let God. I just kept praying, man.
"I prayed to him if he wanted to give football back to me, I'd do good with it. But then I also prayed to him that if he didn't want football to be with me, then I was man enough to accept whatever he wanted to do. My faith is what carried me through everything."
Another topic that comes up while the candid Gilyard is meeting with NFL teams this week dates back to before college. The Bunnell, Fla., native said he's been telling teams about the time he was arrested in high school for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
"It was just one of the issues I had as a kid growing up," he said. "I was a youngster. I was young and dumb, so I made mistakes. That's what made me. Everybody goes through mistakes. Everybody has their downfalls. I'm pretty much sure everybody has something that they aren't proud of. That's the thing I'm not proud of."
His past issues could scare some teams off. Evaluators who initially projected Gilyard as a late first- or early second-round pick are beginning to think he could fall to the third round, even though he has the talent to become a dynamic slot receiver and returner in the NFL. Bengals receivers coach Mike Sheppard told PFW his team will do its homework on Gilyard, but he likes what he's seen so far, baggage and all.
"He'll be a good (slot) player, which is something we're hopeful of ... it's one of the needs we have, I think," Sheppard said. "So he's somebody we're very interested in.
"After all the plays he made last year at Cincinnati, I think you're crazy if you don't do a good job in evaluating him."
Watch for multiple postings each day this week from the Senior Bowl, including blogs and our prospect of the day.
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