They are NFL scouts and assistant coaches, and they have come to the McNeese State campus in Lake Charles, La., wearing parkas and baseball caps adorned with team insignias. In one hand they carry clipboards fitted with evaluation forms, in the other stopwatches worn smooth from handling. They represent teams in Chicago, Green Bay, Kansas City, Miami, New York, Seattle and Washington. They have come with a holy man's capacity to forgive and a betting man's hope for glory.
They don't say much, not even to one another. Their assignment—to help decide the football fate of former LSU and McNeese State running back Cecil Collins—is easy only if they don't allow themselves to think about Collins's troubled off-field history.
"All right, Cecil, step on the scale," says one of the scouts. Collins, dressed in black spandex and a blue McNeese State T-shirt emblazoned with the image of a cowboy on a bucking horse, does as instructed. "Two-fifteen. Two-fifteen, right, Cecil?"
Collins nods his head, then horns his shoes back onto his feet. "Two-fifteen," he repeats in a whisper.
"Does anybody need the height?"
"I'm five-ten," Collins answers quickly.
"Five-ten? Then why does my chart here say five-nine and three quarters?"
Collins, though accustomed to having his word questioned, responds with silence, then gives a loud, satisfied laugh when he realizes that the man is only joking.
If the 22-year-old Collins seems more than a little uptight on this day, he has every reason to be. Only seven months ago it looked as if his football career was over, and now his future in the game depends on persuading the NFL that he's a "changed man," as he describes himself, that he is not the person represented in police reports as a sexual predator who last summer harassed two female residents of the Baton Rouge apartment complex where he was living.
Today's workout, coming less than a month after his eye-catching performance at the NFL scouting combine, will help determine where Collins falls in the April 17-18 draft. Although he played in a total of six college games, league analysts predict that only three backs, Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams of Texas, Edgerrin James of Miami and Kevin Faulk of LSU, will be selected ahead of Collins.