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Irish hope for best on draft day

Andrew Soukup | Friday, April 23, 2004

The waiting will end this weekend.

But that doesn’t mean the handful of Notre Dame seniors who are expecting to be selected in the 2004 NFL Draft are any less nervous.

Take cornerback Vontez Duff, for example. Scouts have told him that he could be picked as early as the third round, but he’s going to do his best to stay away from the television until his phone rings.

“I don’t think I’ll be that nervous until the day comes,” Duff said, who plans to spend most of the weekend at his house. “Then, I’ll do something to try not to think about it.”

The draft’s seven rounds are divided across two days, with the first three rounds being held Saturday and the final four rounds taking place Sunday.

Analysts are estimating that anywhere between four and seven Notre Dame players could be selected this year.

Notre Dame had seven players drafted in the 2003 draft, but only one was picked on the first day. Unlike last year, when center Jeff Faine became the first Irish player selected in the first round since 1999, most draft analysts aren’t expecting the Irish to have any players drafted in the first round.

Instead, running back Julius Jones could be the first Notre Dame player to hear his name called. Analysts have projected Jones, whose brother Thomas is a running back for the Chicago Bears, to be chosen in either the late second round or early third round.

After Jones, though, it’s anybody’s guess who will be picked next.

NFL teams could pick Duff, who has impressed scouts with his defensive ability and his return game, or linebacker Courtney Watson.

Then there are the players who hope injuries don’t hurt their draft status. Take safety Glenn Earl, for example, who had surgery and missed the last six games of the 2003 season with an injury but impressed scouts with his pre-draft workouts. Or there is defensive tackle Darrell Campbell, whose draft stock dramatically climbed after the season before a workout injury left him simply hoping to be drafted.

Among the other Irish seniors hoping to hear their names called on draft day are cornerback Jason Beckstrom, defensive tackle Cedric Hilliard, receiver Omar Jenkins, offensive tackle Jim Molinaro and kicker Nicholas Setta.

Players who aren’t chosen in the NFL Draft still could sign free agent contracts with teams.

“I don’t have a preference [where I go],” Duff said.

The Irish don’t care when who calls their name this weekend. Just as long as it gets called.