March 25, 2009
By Bart Wright, The Greenville News
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- William Middleton began the 2008 football season at Furman University as an unknown commodity to all the people that count in the business of professional football.
He wasn't under the radar so much as he was invisible. He could have walked through the line of vision of a professional scout, and the guy might well have craned his neck to look around Middleton in search of a real football player.
By the time scouts from 27 National Football League teams appeared at Furman on Tuesday afternoon to watch Middleton and a handful of others work out in preparation for next month's college player draft, they knew about the Furman defensive back.
Middleton was a first-team selection on two playoff-division all-America squads ó enough, one might have guessed, to warrant an invitation to the NFL combine last month in Indianapolis. His teammate, 6-foot-7, 312-pound offensive tackle Joel Bell, was invited to the big show in Indianapolis, but not Middleton.
His opportunity was Tuesday, and as has been the case with most things he's attempted, he gave it his best.
"It wasn't so much a disappointment as it was a source of motivation," Middleton said of being passed over by the combine. "I looked at it as an opportunity to get myself ready to make an impression when the day came."
He's been living in Atlanta, working out three times a day with a professional trainer in a facility frequented by Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward and several other NFL players.
Based on what he did Tuesday, it seems to have been time well spent.
Professional scouts are more secretive than the CIA, so nobody was willing to comment on Middleton's workout, but it's fair to say he was well received.
He ran a 4.46 40 -- not great but not bad. At 5-10, 190 pounds, his frame is not uncommon at the NFL level.
You would have to say he's become a known commodity, a guy who has a chance to be drafted next month on any team that's looking for an all-out effort guy with off the charts character.
Middleton graduated from Furman with a biology degree in four years and has post-football plans to go to medical school.
These days, there are dozens of Wall Street firms that could use a guy with the personal integrity of a William Middleton. He could coast into a career in medicine, law or public relations.
One of the most restrictive career paths is professional football, the one job he's trying to break into.
"Oh, yeah," he said, "I've thought about that a lot, but not everybody even gets a chance to play in the NFL, so my perspective is that I have this opportunity and I shouldn't let it pass without giving it my best."
They ran him through a variety of essential drills for a defensive back, and he appeared to pass every test, eliciting cheers now and then from a small group of onlookers.
What happens next is anybody's guess, but Middleton gave it his best, something any future employer can count on.