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Hurdles to history

From size, stereotypes, system, Chang fights skeptics

Posted: Friday April 15, 2005 6:45PM; Updated: Friday April 15, 2005 7:08PM
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Timmy Chang
Timmy Chang is trying to become the NFL's first Asian-American quarterback.
Marco Garcia/Getty Images

In a little more than a week, Hawaii quarterback Tim Chang will sit and wait for his name to be called like every other NFL Draft hopeful.

The outcome is out of his hands. It might surprise you, but the guy who threw for more yardage (17,072) than anyone who ever played collegiate football, and whose 117 career touchdown passes rank second in NCAA history, isn't hearing much about his many accomplishments these days. What he is hearing from scouts and talent evaluators is that his arm isn't the strongest, he's undersized and the gimmicky offense he thrived in doesn't leave him well suited to play the NFL's most demanding position.

Chang, who is attempting to become the league's first Asian-American quarterback, would seem to be the latest example of how collegiate production doesn't necessarily correspond to NFL potential in the eyes of league talent evaluators. But with the success of quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson, Marc Bulger, Jake Delhomme, Rich Gannon and Trent Green -- none of whom were held in high esteem at draft time -- it's a wonder anyone could discount so much production so easily.

Don Yee, one of the most respected agents in the business whose clients include Brady, can't help but wonder why Chang's prospects aren't brighter. Yee feels that he's reliving the 2000 draft in which Brady was not selected until the sixth round, a huge mistake by NFL evaluators. "The only comments you hear are about the things he [Chang] can't do, as opposed to what he did do," Yee said. "They said Tommy [Brady] wasn't athletic enough. He ran too slow. He ran 5.2 at the Combine."

According to Yee, there may be other reasons it looks as if Chang may not be selected until very late in the draft, if at all. "In my opinion, I don't think he's being fairly evaluated, because of the system he played in, his college coach's [June Jones] reputation for running that system, the fact that he played way out there in Hawaii, and maybe to some extent the fact that he's Asian," said Yee, who is also Asian. "I think people in their evaluation process of him are coming into it with so many preconceived notions and biases already that it makes it difficult for them to see through those things and fairly evaluate him.

"I think it's like anytime there's the first time for anything, or there's a new threshold to be crossed, people are going to wonder about the validity of this person's ability,'' added Yee. "People try to explain things away a little bit."

Yee makes it clear he is not suggesting NFL personnel evaluators have practiced any overt or intentional form of discrimination in assessing Chang's prospects. But as the league's only Asian-American agent, he can draw on his experience and the well-meaning perceptions he sometimes ran up against in becoming a pioneer in his field. "I do think [Chang's] ethnicity to some degree plays a part,'' Yee said. "But there's no malice intended. It's almost a subconscious perception problem. There is kind of a perception that people have of Asians. There are still stereotypes that well-intending people still buy into. When I got into this business, it took a couple years before I was able to not have to listen to any jokes any more about being Asian. It wasn't malice. It was more ignorance.''

One Asian stereotype concerns size.A longtime NFL personnel man told me on Thursday the problem with Chang is "the kid is short.'' But when I noted that Chang was 6-1 and 211 pounds at the Scouting Combine -- a tad shorter than St. Louis' Bulger, and taller than San Diego's Drew Brees -- the talent scout replied: "But he plays short. And he ran 5.15 [at the NFL combine]. And he's 211, but he looks frail.''