Arizona football: For Wildcats, it's hurry up, draft, and wait

2011-04-24T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:31:21Z Arizona football: For Wildcats, it's hurry up, draft, and waitRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 24, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Colin Baxter is navigating the road to the NFL in a station wagon.

The battered Ford Taurus wagon is a loaner from his grandfather. While it's not exactly the kind of car a star football player typically drives, Baxter's ride is reliable and big enough for him and his new wife to carry their 3-month-old son.

Something nicer can wait.

"Right now, I'm not splurging on anything," he said. "I'm not planning on buying anything until I have actual money of my own."

The NFL's ongoing labor dispute has left college football's top prospects, including a half-dozen Arizona Wildcats, in a holding pattern heading into this week's draft.

Those drafted can't be signed or paid - and, as a result, can't report to their new teams - until the NFL and its players agree on a collective bargaining agreement. Likewise, undrafted players can't sign as free agents until there is labor peace. If a deal is not made by this summer, the NFL season could be delayed or even canceled.

Arizona's prospects are doing their best to balance the uncertainty. Six Wildcats, including Tucson native Brooks Reed, could be selected in this week's draft.

The three-day event begins Thursday with first-round selections, and continues through Saturday.

Baxter, who projects as a fourth- to seventh-round pick, said he's excited to learn his pro fate. But he's anxious about what that might mean.

"That's the tough thing about this year. Even when I find out where I'm going, I'm not going to be able to go there until things get worked out," he said.

A solution isn't on the horizon.

The NFL officially locked out its players March 12, a day after the players' union voted to dissolve and pursue legal action against the league. The NFL and its players cannot conduct business during the lockout, halting all trades and free agent signings. The two sides agreed to mediation, but a Minneapolis judge ruled this week to halt it after four sessions.

Players, owners and the mediator are expected to reconvene in mid-May. The draft, a cornerstone of the league's off-season activities, will go on as planned.

Despite the uncertainty, Ron Slavin - an agent at BTI Sports Advisors who represents former Wildcats Antoine Cason and Mike Thomas - said his clients are prepared for a long lockout.

Slavin urged them to prepare for the possibility of a labor stoppage more than a year ago. The players he signed this winter, a group that includes Baxter, were warned about the lockout immediately.

Though the labor strife pits owners against current players, potential NFL draft picks are the ones with the most to lose.

Draft-eligible players are not yet members of the union and, as a result, are on their own. Players still receive a small stipend from their agents, and can borrow money interest-free through their representatives or through a line-of-credit established with a bank. Draft picks won't be paid, or allowed to even practice, until a peace is reached.

"It's a totally different scenario," Slavin said. "Spending, buying cars before the draft, it's not in our package. This year, especially, we were very careful. The kinds of people we recruit don't do it anyway, but they understand and they listen."

Most Arizona prospects are keeping a close eye on their money, even as they get achingly close to NFL riches.

Reed, a Sabino High School graduate, has spent most of his off-season preparing for the draft in Tucson. Many experts have the UA senior defensive end pegged as a first- or second-round pick.

Running back Nicolas Grigsby relocated to Phoenix to train, while defensive end D'Aundre Reed worked out near his family home in Los Angeles.

Teammate Ricky Elmore is still living like a college student.

The Wildcats' defensive end lives with his mother and stepfather in their Simi Valley, Calif., home. He still drives the Ford F-150 truck that his mother bought him for his high school graduation. Elmore's girlfriend, former Arizona softball standout Callista Balko, has a job.

"If I need money, she'll help me out. That's what you do in relationships," he said. "I really don't have any expenses. I don't need to go out and party."

Baxter's case is a bit different. The center married his longtime girlfriend, Julia, during the UA's bye week in November. They welcomed their first child, a boy named Gage, on Jan. 14. Since then, Baxter and his young family have been living with Julia's parents in Scottsdale.

Baxter and his relatives will watch the draft intently, even if the lockout prohibits him from signing a contract or visiting his new team. He said he isn't exactly sure where he'll get drafted, or which team will select him.

But he's looking forward to the payoff, whenever it comes.

"I have to get myself a car," he said.

Arizona Wildcats in the NFL Draft

Pos Name Ht, Wt Projected NFL draft round

DE Brooks Reed 6-3, 263 First-second

DE Ricky Elmore 6-5, 255 Third-fifth

DE D'Aundre Reed 6-4, 261 Fourth-seventh

C Colin Baxter 6-3, 305 Fourth-seventh

OT Adam Grant 6-6, 323 Sixth-seventh

RB Nicolas Grigsby 5-10, 195 Sixth-seventh

P Keenyn Crier 6-0, 200 Seventh-undrafted free agent

OT Phil Garcia 6-7, 321 Seventh-undrafted free agent

OG Conan Amituanai 6-4, 335 Seventh-undrafted free agent

S Joe Perkins 6-2, 207 Seventh-undrafted free agent

2011 nfl draft

• Thursday: NFL draft starts with first-round selections

• Friday: Second and third rounds

• Saturday: Fourth through seventh rounds

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