Do you remember how excited you were when former 5-Star RB recruit Jason Gwaltney shunned USC and Ohio St. on national television to declare his intention to play football for Rich Rodriguez and WVU? The prep school product who had 45 touchdowns, ran for 2,882 yards, and had a Long Island record 9 touchdowns in one game during his senior season in high school was supposed to dominate the Big East en route to the NFL Draft.
"I expect to start game one," he told Scout.com before his freshman season at WVU. "That’s no knock to the other backs there, I just feel that I’m going to work that much harder. My goals, I want to be over 1,500 yards my freshman season. I feel the coaches are going to put me in the position to do that."
Things didn't exactly work out the way Jason expected it to. After a long, arduous journey, Jason Gwaltney is finally about to enter the NFL Draft. Where has he been and what NFL team is taking a long, hard look at him?
He played in six games during the 2005 season before getting injured in a win at Rutgers. He didn't reach his prediction for rushing yards his freshman season. He fell 1,314 short. He did score 3 touchdowns while competing with Steve Slaton for playing time during Slaton's freshman campaign. After Gwaltney was injured, rumors spread that he was not committed to his rehabilitation, the rumors he admitted were not far-fetched. He then left WVU to embark on a three-semester plan that would eventually land him with Pete Carroll at USC. He enrolled in Nasau C.C. He fell back in with his friends on Long Island who had never helped him to make good decisions. He got kicked out of his home and had to find construction jobs to make ends meet. His plans on returning to D-I football were short-lived however, and he eventually went to D-II C.W. Post for the 2008 season.
"I never had to develop responsibility on my own," he told Chuck McGill of the Charleston Daily Mail. "I had to get an apartment of my own, get a job, support myself. From 9 years old, everybody looked at me as a football god and all of a sudden nobody knows who I am and I’m just one of a million going to fill out a job application so I could pay for a place to live."
Gwaltney then paid his way to play at D-III school, Kean University in Union, NJ for his final two years of eligibility. He planned on entering the NFL draft after the 2009 season, but an ankle injury derailed those plans.
"I had to rehab my ass off to get ready for the next season," Gwaltney said. "I showed that I was committed to my craft and I wasn’t going to shy away from getting back on the field."
When he returned to for his senior season at Kean, he rushed for a school record 1,412 yards which included four consecutive 200-yard rushing games. He said that he was bigger than most of his offensive lineman and had to encourage them on every down. Doing that, he said, taught him how to be a leader. He said that the situation really developed him as a man, going from getting pampered to having to scrap his way through college.
"Football is a small part of life, but I have to use this outlet to make a better life for myself. Respect it and stay humble; have confidence, but know when to use it; learn from mistakes."
After he finished school at Kean, he went to the High Intensity Training center in Huntington, WV with his half-brother, Scooter Berry, to train for the NFL Draft. He was not invited to the NFL Combine, but did participate in Fordham's Pro Day a week after the Combine ended. He measured in at 5'5", 220 lbs. He had a 39" vertical leap which would have placed him 3rd among RBs at the Combine. His broad jump of 10'6" and 20-yard shuttle time of 4.01 seconds would have placed him 1st in each category. His 40-yard dash time of 4.6 seconds would have landed him in 15th place, but his agent, David Rich, of Rich Sports Management tells me that "he (Jason) has better time in him, but he has to prove he's an NFL player when the put the pads on." After the Pro Day, he spoke to officials from the Saint, Jets, Colts, Green Bay, and Philadelphia. His agent counted 16 teams on hand to watch Gwaltney.
I learned that Gwaltney had a workout with his hometown NY Giants last Thursday and I asked him how the workout went and about the experience. He told me, "I got amazing feedback. Might have pushed my way onto the Giants draft board. It was a blessing. I'm so happy, and being at their facility was surreal. I was in football paradise for 4 hours, and I hope to get a chance to work in the NFL."
Todd McShay of ESPN.com has had the Giants drafting a RB in the 2nd round in his different mock drafts. Giants starting RB, Ahmad Bradshaw, will be either a restricted or unrestricted free-agent once a new CBA is signed. His backup, Brandon Jacobs, has had injury problems so the Giants regard the running back position as a need heading into next week's draft. If the Giants look to possibly draft Gwaltney, they have several picks in the later rounds. Two 4th-rounders and three 6th-round picks to go along with their 7th-round pick. The Giants also see kick-returner as a huge need. Their current kick-returner is another former Mountaineer: Darius Reynaud. This is another position Gwaltney could fill.
Gwaltney was an immature teenager coming out of high school, but over the last five years he has been forced to grow up. He may not be the Top-10 pick he once envisioned, but his dreams to play on Sunday's may come to fruition next week.