McKelvin is a small-school star with big-time talent

When NFL teams talk Leodis McKelvin, the chat rolls for a while.

Super-looking athlete. Quick feet. Quick change of direction. A kick returner extraordinaire as much as he is a cover cornerback. Competed with gusto and flair at Troy University. A natural.

Little wonder that in some circles, this is easily the top-rated cornerback in the draft.

Not a surprise that he has already made five on-site team visits this week -- Baltimore, New England, Dallas, Tennessee and the New York Jets -- and will travel on Saturday to Kansas City.

But there is more.

McKelvin is 22. He has brothers who are 2 and 3 years older than him and live in his hometown of Waycross, Ga. He was raised primarily by his mother, Lydia Brown. He is the first from his family to graduate from high school.

And with the 14 hours of classes he is currently taking, plus three hours of summer courses, he plans to become the first in his family to graduate from college.

The draft is a dream. The fact that he is projected as a top 10 pick is exhilarating.

But beginning a new family education cycle that includes high school and college graduation is as exciting to McKelvin as his draft hopes.

"I learned from the mistakes of my brothers," McKelvin said. "I learned from the hard-working example my mom set. I mean, this is very exciting, to become a role model in education for my niece and nephews. That gives me as much motivation as football."

And that helps make this player shoot up the league's character-driven analysis.

When asked recently in a questionnaire about his proudest moment in football he answered: "Winning and celebrating with my teammates."

Cue the music. NFL coaches and GMs are dancing over this 5-foot-11, 190-pound package of talent and character.

One NFL coach said, requesting anonymity: "This kid has great athletic skill and talent. He has the rare ability you are looking for in an NFL corner. And then you love the fact that he is solid off the field. He would be a rare find in any draft."

That is high praise in a draft where every player is plucked and prodded, where the holes teams find in prospects are often as prevalent as the complimentary attributes.

Is Troy too small-school for proper draft analysis? Well, Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware was a Troy product in the 2005 draft. Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora surfaced from there in 2003.

And scouts gained a revealing look at McKelvin when they saw his performance against four bigger schools during his senior season -- Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma State and Georgia. McKelvin ranged from good to stellar in each game.

Teams are drooling over this player not simply because he is a standout cornerback but also because of his penchant for returning punts and kicks. No one in college football history returned more punts and kicks than his career total of 211. He tied the NCAA Division I-A record with eight returns for touchdowns (seven punts, one kickoff).

Might he land with an NFL team that will be hesitant to use him in the return game because of his value as a cornerback?

"Uh, that would be a mistake," McKelvin said. "That's part of my game. I can make up for a bad play on one end by scoring a touchdown on the other end. Doing both all of the time has been done before in the league. It's just the way I play the game. That's how I see it."

His critics say that he dropped too many possible interceptions in college and that his hands are not as sure as is preferred to become the first cornerback selected. Others argue that he made enough plays with his hands and the ones he dropped were often ones few others could reach. Few can see McKelvin falling out of the top-10 players selected because of his dual skills and stout character.

His stiffest competition at the position in this draft comes from Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Here is the difference, according to McKelvin:

"I feel like I'm more explosive. I'm the better tackler. And I've got more experience than him."

Not a player lacking in confidence.

Not a player lacking in much at all.

"I see myself as being a frequent Pro Bowl corner," McKelvin said. "I see myself winning Super Bowls. I see myself as a future Hall of Famer."

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