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War Room: Stovall hopes to go in first round of Saturday’s draft

Bobby Griffin | Friday, April 28, 2006

When Notre Dame receiver Maurice Stovall is selected in Saturday’s NFL Draft, it will be the appropriate culmination of a four-year journey – one that moved from high potential to relative stagnation to, finally, climactic achievement.

This achievement is defined by a senior season where he had 69 catches for 1,149 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. In two games that season – an eight-catch, 130-yard performance against Navy Nov. 12 and a 14-catch, 207-yard game against BYU Oct. 22 – exceeded his entire production from his junior season in 2004.

What’s more, Stovall’s breakout year came during a season when questions remained about how the receiver who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a freshman had disappeared in the midst of coaching changes and Irish mediocrity.

But those close to Stovall (6-foot-5, 222 pounds) knew his talent was there all along. It was only a matter of being in the wrong offensive system while simultaneously attempting to live up to the expectations he set for himself his freshman year.

Just ask his father, Maurice Stovall Sr.

“Mo is pretty much the most productive [receiver] in his class,” Stovall Sr. said in a phone interview with The Observer Thursday. “If he had gotten the ball a little more [earlier] … he could have been a lot more productive.”

Part of the reason he didn’t get the ball more frequently during his sophomore and junior years was because former coach Tyrone Willingham and current coach Charlie Weis had different ideas about how Stovall should be used in the offense. Stovall Sr. said his son was in a position where Weis told him to lose 25 pounds before the 2005 season because he had been asked by Willingham to add the weight earlier.

“The main thing, as I see, whoever gets Maurice is going to get a gentleman,” Stovall Sr. said. “He will do everything that you ask him to – and that’s the type of young man he is.”

And that willingness for the blue-chip prospect from Philadelphia to compromise his individual goals for the team – while other classmates like Ohio State receiver Santonio Holmes and Florida’s Chad Jackson were piling up numbers – revealed this character.

But now the issue isn’t if Stovall will ever reach his potential and be drafted – it’s only a matter of when and where. And this reality has become a frequently asked question leading up to the draft. Many experts have pegged him falling somewhere in the second or third round, including NFLDraftCountdown.com analyst Scott Wright.

“I think he could go as high as the second round [to Philadelphia],” Wright said in a phone interview with The Observer Thursday. “He’s really the type of big [receiver] they need.”

A return to Philadelphia would be coming full circle. As a high school prospect from Archbishop Carroll in Philadelphia, Stovall had his choice of any major college. He was heavily recruited as an Army All-American and chose Notre Dame over Georgia Tech, Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia.

With all the excitement returning to play in Philadelphia could generate for the area and the Stovall family, Stovall Sr. said the family would be satisfied no matter where he ends up.

“That’s exciting for us knowing that’s a possibility he’ll go to Philadelphia with their second pick,” Stovall Sr. said. “All you ask for as a young man … is the opportunity to showcase [your] skills.

“If he’s there for [Philadelphia]. Fine. If he goes somewhere else [earlier] … we’ll be elated.”

Wright said if Philadelphia does not target Stovall in the middle of the second round, New England, Pittsburgh and Denver might be interested. Wright named New England as the team most likely to pursue a big receiver like Stovall.

In the last two seasons, New England lost two starting receivers – David Givens (Tennessee) and David Patten (Washington) – to free agency. With third receiver Troy Brown quickly aging (he will be 35 in July), Weis’ old friend Bill Belichik might be interested in Stovall’s services, Wright said.

“You look at the build,” Wright said. “The one thing teams are gonna take away from Stovall is the [jump ball ability].”

That same jump ball athleticism is attractive to Pittsburgh as well. Wright said the Steelers could target Stovall as a replacement for Plaxico Burress, the 6-foot-6 receiver who signed with the Giants after the 2004 season.

But regardless of where Stovall lands, he will be fulfilling a life-long dream for both he and his family. And Stovall Sr. said the most important thing is that he was able to reach this point after a college career that wasn’t always on the up – well, until lately, that is.

“He’s in the position that we had anticipated he’d be in,” Stovall Sr. said. “Last year [the draft experts] were saying he’d possibly go in the sixth or seventh round. We’re just excited about … where he is right now.”