By Grant Abston, Sports Editor
For the first time since 2006, the ACU football team had a player selected in the NFL Draft. But this year was twice as good as two former players, running back Bernard Scott and wide receiver Johnny Knox, were selected in the 2009 NFL Draft, making it the first time since 1983 that multiple Wildcats were taken in the same NFL Draft.
The Chicago Bears selected Knox with the 140th pick in the fifth round, while the Cincinnati Bengals took Scott in the sixth round with the 209th pick.
“We’re just happy for those guys and that they are getting an opportunity,” ACU head football coach Chris Thomsen said. “They worked really hard for it, and I’m really excited for them.”
One day before the draft, Thomsen got a call from former ACU all-America defensive back Danieal Manning who spoke to Thomsen about the possibilities of the Bears drafting Knox. Manning, who was the last Wildcat drafted after being selected in the second round by the Bears in the 2006 draft, told Thomsen he thought the Bears had a good chance of selecting Knox.
“[Manning] called me after the draft and said ‘I told you,'” Thomsen said. “He’s excited to take Johnny under his wing, and it’s a blessing for Johnny because Danieal is a super guy.”
Knox was one of three receivers drafted by the Bears, joining Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma and Derek Kinder of Pittsburgh. Knox turned heads at several tryouts and continued to grab the Bears’ attention with his performance in the NFL Combine.
“We’re looking for someone who can stretch the field along with Devin [Hester],” said Greg Gabriel, the Bears director of college scouting, in a news release. “At the [Texas vs. the Nation] All-Star Game and the Combine, he caught everything.”
Lovie Smith, head coach of the Bears, emphasized a need to add depth at the wide receiver position and was pleased with a strong receiver class.
“Receiver-wise, we knew that was a position we needed to add some players, and we did. Iglesias, with what he brings as a good steady receiver, to the speed of Johnny Knox and the combination we got with Kinder, I feel good about them,” he said.
Scott, who raised eyebrows with his off-field incidents prior to ACU, was selected by the Bengals, a franchise known for taking a chance on players with questionable pasts. But despite Scott’s troubled past, the Bengals saw a talented football player and felt comfortable with Scott, willing to give him an opportunity to prove himself.
“To be honest, he’s had a little bit of a troubled past, but that was when he was a young guy,” said Jim Anderson, running backs coach for the Bengals, in a news release.
“He’s going to come in here and do the things that we need him to do to be the very best football player that he can be and help us win.”
Monday, the Bengals cut two running backs, former first-round pick Chris Perry and Gary Russell to help clear room for Scott. Scott will join James Johnson, DeDe Dorsey and Kenny Watson as backups to starter Cedric Benson. Thomsen said he thinks Scott is entering a great situation in Cincinnati and will get an opportunity to prove himself.
“I think Bernard is getting into situation that is ideal for him,” Thomsen said. “The running back coach has coached 25 years and is a veteran that has coached five pro bowlers. He saw something in Bernard and really pulled for him, and that’s important.”
In addition to Scott and Knox, several other ACU players heard their names called – just a few hours after the draft, as former offensive lineman Joseph Thompson, tight end Kendrick Holloway and quarterback Billy Malone all got invites to try out.
Holloway, a former first team all-LSC tight end, said he did not expect to hear his name on draft day, but was hoping for a call after the draft after talking to several teams before the draft. Holloway was contacted by the Cleveland Browns and was invited to try out as a fullback with the possibility of being signed and brought into training camp after a good performance.
“I was real excited and I was nervous and shaking,” Holloway said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and a call like that is shocking. I called my mom who was at work, and she just started screaming, and I had to tell her to calm down.”
Thompson, another first team all-LSC performer, received a phone call from the Browns as well, earning an invite to tryout. Despite the invite, Thompson said the wait was hard but it allowed him to focus on the things that really mattered.
“It was tough [waiting], but it was also an improvement on my faith and allowed me to focus on things that really matter,” Thompson said. “When you don’t know what is going to happen in life, you focus on what you can control.”
Thompson also was excited for the opportunity to join Holloway in Cleveland.
“It will be good to have the opportunity to be around someone and to have someone you can relate to on a deeper level in a strange place,” Thompson said. “I can encourage him, and he can encourage me.”
Malone, who ended his ACU career owning nearly every school passing record, was invited to tryout for the Buffalo Bills and will look to get a job backing up starter Trent Edwards.
With all the attention ACU received with this year’s recruiting class, it has the potential to be the top class to ever come out of ACU’s football program.
“It’s awesome because one thing I can think about that it is pretty important is that it’s not just for my personal gain, but to put Abilene Christian on the map with one of the largest recruiting classes to go to the NFL and getting that exposure to ACU because I love ACU,” Thompson said.