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TUSCULUM SOUNDS like a medical instrument used to examine an elephant's dental work. In fact, it's a small Presbyterian liberal arts college in the hills of northeast Tennessee. So small that no Tusculum football player has ever been drafted by the NFL. "It would be an honor to be the first Pioneer chosen," says Ricardo (Coot) Colclough, who last Saturday became the first Pioneer to play in the Senior Bowl. "High or low, it doesn't really matter. I just hope my name is pronounced right."
Though his last name is pronounced COAK-lee, the 6-foot, 186-pound corner-back and kick returner is just as often called Coal-claw or Coal-cough. At the start of last week's Senior Bowl workouts in Mobile, many NFL scouts and coaches were calling him simply the Kid from Tusculum.
A quiet, grinning, do-ragged presence with an unshakable calm, Colclough can cover 40 yards in 4.26 seconds. He was touted as the most talented Division II player invited to the Senior Bowl since 1996, when linebacker John Mobley of Kutztown played in the game and went on to be a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos. "The Kid's a talent," said Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who led Colclough's Senior Bowl North squad. "His skills need to be refined, but he's very responsive to coaches' corrections. He probably has had to make bigger adjustments than any player in Mobile this week." Could the Kid from Tusculum cover a wide receiver from LSU as nimbly as one from Mars Hill?
During the South's 28-10 rout, Colclough played like a kid who knew he belonged among an elite group of invitees that included defensive backs Will Allen of Ohio State, Will Poole of USC and Derrick Strait of Oklahoma. He deflected passes, delivered thunderous hits and outshone even his most radiant Division I counterparts. He was voted the North's defensive player of the game.
"Good enough speed, good enough size, good enough agility," observed Baltimore Ravens player personnel director Phil Savage. "He's no sleeper. When I visited Tusculum to watch him this season, there were already 85 NFL business cards on the desk of the videotape room."
Many scouts consider Colclough a Day One lock in the draft. "Some teams will have a problem getting past his level of opponent," says Savage. "In a case like his, though, you-look for signs of dominance, and there were many this season."
A highlight film of Colclough's senior year would feature kickoff returns of 97 and 92 yards for touchdowns against Morehouse College and an 85-yard punt return for a score against Charleston Southern, a game in which he also ran back a majestic one-handed interception 75 yards for a touchdown. He picked off 15 passes in his two seasons at Tusculum, 11 in 2003.
The Sumter, S.C., native came to Tusculum by way of Kilgore College, a Texas juco. He had been recruited by Clemson and South Carolina but got blindsided by grades and settled for Kilgore. He became a juco All-America and was again courted by big-time programs but lacked the credit hours to be eligible for a I-A school. Tusculum gave him a chance to play immediately.
On Saturday, Lewis did too. "He did everything asked of him," said the coach, "and he did it well." Afterward the press surrounded Colclough and peppered him with the usual questions: Where's Tusculum? Why Division II?
Colclough eyed the reporters as if they were caterpillars in some salad he was about to partake in. The question arose, "How's your name pronounced?"