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Hazelton: 'This is the biggest thing for me'

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Nobody will have more pressure on them at UC's pro day Monday than WR Vidal Hazelton.

 

CINCINNATI - The first opportunity came more than 10 years ago. An athletically gifted 11-year-old covered acres of ground on the youth football fields.

 

His skills deserved attention of the NFL. His scholarship to USC insisted he'd own dozens of chances to prove it.

 

An injury with the Trojans, transfer to Cincinnati, year spent sitting out and another ACL injury during the opener against Fresno State stole all those opportunities from Vidal Hazelton.

 

Despite the raw skills and ability that once made him a can't-miss prospect destined for the first two days of the draft, Hazelton didn't even receive an invite to the NFL Combine for the top pro prospects.

 

"Mind-boggling," he called it, not attempting to hide disenchantment.

 

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Now, Hazelton was left with no significant game tape from the past three years, a knee injury hovering like a black cloud over his draft stock and only one chance to keep from being forgotten by those who hold his NFL dream in their hands.

 

For most, a pro day is almost a throwaway workout. Players will be judged, but it falls into a pile of game film, statistics and Senior Bowl practices.

 

Not for Hazelton. He has Monday's pro day. That's it.  

 

Since he was that 11-year-old kid he dreamed of having an opportunity to prove he could play in the NFL. With no other ways to be judged, he says with the stakes placed on this three-hour workout, it's fair to call this the most important day of his life.

 

"Yeah, I would definitely say that," Hazelton said. "It's my dream. Since I was a little kid I always wanted to be a football player so it is my time to showcase and get my opportunity to get that. This is the biggest thing for me."

 

Hazelton says he's 100-percent recovered from the ACL injury that ended his season. He was cleared to play in the final two games in what goes down as the fastest heal from an ACL tear anybody around these parts witnessed. But, he wasn't fully capable of moving. He conquered the physical aspect, but struggled mentally trusting his knee with the same cut that curtailed his season at Fresno.

 

Around the middle of February, he finally felt like the injury was behind him.

 

"It really started clicking the way I wanted it to," he said. "The biggest thing was the confidence part, getting that out of your mind that it happened. I had to trust in that leg like I did before. That is what took the longest for me."

 

He'll take part in every drill and route combination asked of him Monday. Hazelton has nothing to hide. After training much of the offseason in California, his 40-yard dash slots in the high-4.4, low-4.5 range.

 

The more challenging drills for a player coming off a knee injury would be the snap cuts of shuttle runs and other quickness and acceleration measures. Hazelton lacks concern.

 

"That will be the most difficult thing, but my times in that stuff is out the water," he said. "I have always been really good at that stuff."

Those skills are part of what helped him compile 540 yards as a sophomore at USC and even has him in the conversation considering all the strikes already against him.

 

Teams are intrigued, if cautiously. He's heard from a long list including his longtime favorite Atlanta Falcons and current hometown Cincinnati Bengals. They sound the same questions.

 

"The biggest thing with teams is just with the film," he said. "The only thing I really got is a bunch of practice film. Scouts, they come out to practice, they know what I am capable of doing, my ability, so it's not just all on the game film."

 

Indeed, much of it will be on Monday's showing. Hazelton doesn't even ask his agent about the word on the street about his draft status. He could be selected in the late rounds or a college free agent. He may be the biggest unknown quantity at any position in the draft.

 

"It is an unfortunate situation, I know where I should be as far as my talent goes, but whatever happens happens," he said. "I'm not really happy with the grades and stuff I have been getting so I don't really pay attention to it."

 

Monday represents a chance to answer questions and remind scouts that Hazelton at one point was a five-star recruit and No. 1 receiver in his class by Scout.com.

 

But for the kid who spent only a day sulking after his devastating knee injury before hitting rehab with a smile and full head of steam while standing on the sidelines joking with teammates all season, don't expect him to crumble under the pressure. That wouldn't be his style.

 

"People get anxious and scared for pro days and combines," he said. "Me, it doesn't really bother me very much. It's just football for me. It's what I do."

 

If all goes to his plan, he could be doing it for the next 10 years of his life. Earning the opportunity starts now. He doesn't know what scouts will say when they drive off the Clifton campus Monday. He only knows what he wants them to.

 

"I want them to say, that guy competes," Hazelton said. "He's a baller."

 

How do you prove you're a baller without 11 defenders to ball against?

 

"I am just going to have fun," he said. "I am just going go out there and catch the ball like I have been catching it since I was 11 years old."

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Good luck Vidal. He's one of the best receivers I've ever seen. I saw some highlights on him at this link
http://www.govidal.com great stuff. Why wasn't he granted a 5th year of eligibility? I think he'll be one of those players that will show up big time in the NFL. He might be a bargain for some clubs. This kid is a fighter. All the best Vidal.