NFL dreams alive an kicking; Four Pirates sign free-agent deals

Published 8:15 pm Tuesday, April 29, 2008

By Staff
Commentary by KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
Flashback five years.
Williamston quarterback Brad Roach drops back to pass. He surveys the field, looking for an open receiver. The 6-6 gunslinger gets ready to release the ball when, all of a sudden, Plymouth’s Damien Linson closes the gap on Roach’s would-be target.
The scenario played out time and time again on Friday nights in Martin County and Washington County whenever the Tigers and Vikings would meet on the football field.
Roach, who led the Tigers to consecutive state championship runner-up finishes, was the WDN Offensive Player of the Year his senior season.
Linson, a phenomenal athlete who excelled at wide receiver, defensive back and return man, joined Roach on the WDN All-Area Football Team.
Both players, who graduated from their respective high schools in 2003, went on to have solid collegiate careers.
Roach, an All-American quarterback at Catawba College, put up record-setting numbers for the Indians.
Linson, named the most valuable player of the 2006 Mid-American Conference Championship Game, finished his college career with the Central Michigan Chippewas ranked in the top four of a handful of receiving categories.
It may have taken five years, but the two star athletes just may meet on a football field once again.
Roach signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. He’ll compete for a roster spot at quarterback with Kyle Boller, second-year player Troy Smith and fellow rookie Joe Flacco.
When Roach takes the field May 8 for mini-camp, it will be a dream-come-true. Prior to his first college start, which came at Winston-Salem State on Aug. 27, 2005, Roach said the NFL was his ultimate goal.
He can start thinking about the NFL now.
Like Roach, Linson is thinking about the NFL. He had a chance to make a team last year, also as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens, before being one of the last players cut.
Linson is using that as fuel for another shot this year. Whether it’s with the Ravens again, or any of the other 31 NFL teams, Linson doesn’t care.
Since Linson went through the Ravens’ training camp last year, he knows what Roach will likely go through. Linson offered these simple but powerful words of advice to Roach: “Go there and work hard, and get in good with the staff.”
Linson, who will get his degree in entrepreneurship this semester, is ready for his opportunity.
So just how special would it be to have three area players in the NFL this season, including New Orleans Saints’ receiver Terrance Copper (Washington High School)?
“That would be really exciting,” Linson said. “It would show that there’s talent everywhere and maybe people would need to take a closer look at our area.”
By this time next year, former Roanoke High School and current North Carolina Tar Heels’ star Trimane Goddard could very well be mentioned in the same breath as the above three.
Live those NFL dreams.
Kevin Travis is the sports editor of the Washington Daily News. You may reach him at 940-4217, or by e-mail at
Undrafted rookies carry chips on their shoulders
By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
When East Carolina cornerback Travis Williams wasn’t selected in this weekend’s NFL draft, he heeded the advice of an old friend who knew exactly what he was going through - Pittsburgh Steelers’ All-Pro running back Willie Parker.
After an unspectacular career at North Carolina, Parker signed a free agent deal with the Steelers in 2004 and became the team’s starting running back a year later after Steelers stars Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley went down with injuries.
“It’s out of your control,” Parker told his former workout partner. “You’ve just got to be ready and once you get your shot, you’ve got to show them what you can do. You’ve got to make all those teams who passed on you realize that they made a mistake.”
Now, Williams will be leaning on Parker for more advice.
Late Sunday night, Williams inked a free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, becoming one of four Pirates to sign rookie free-agent deals in the last two days.
Offensive lineman Josh Coffman signed with New England, while fellow lineman Matt Butler opted for a deal with the Detroit Lions. Tight end and fullback Jay Sonnhalter chose to sign a deal with Washington.
Coffman is also excited about his future in the NFL. As of late Monday night, Coffman was the only rookie offensive lineman to sign with the Patriots, who opted to shore up their defense via the draft.
It’s unbelievable. A dream come true,” Coffman said. “The whole day was real nerve-racking. I didn’t get the first phone call until the draft was over. I was sitting around the house venting my frustrations to my family when I got a call from my agents saying they had a deal on the table from New England. Then, not even 10 seconds late, New England called, and then like 10 or 12 other teams after that. But New England seemed like the right place. I feel blessed to go to a team with a rich tradition of excellence.”
Butler also likes how he fits into Detroit’s plans.
Sonnhalter elected to stay closer to home, choosing the Redskins offer over opportunities from Tampa Bay, Cleveland, San Diego, and Kansas City.
All four players will fly to their respective cities on Thursday to complete their fee-agent deals and go through team physicals. They’ll also attend three-day rookie mini camps this weekend.
While they all admit to being disappointed after not getting drafted, they also say that they’ve got a little extra motivation because all 32 teams passed on them.
And all four believed the ECU football program wasn’t given the respect they deserve after back-to-back bowl years.
Coffman echoed those sentiments.