Hillenmeyer, Stricker and Jones Waiting To Hear Names Called This Weekend 4/24/03

The waiting is about to end for three former Commodores hoping to play in the National Football League: Hunter Hillenmeyer, Dan Stricker and Rushen Jones. After a 2002 Draft that failed to produce a Commodore selection, experts believe linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, wide receiver Dan Stricker and cornerback Rushen Jones could be picked this weekend during the 2003 NFL Draft in New York.

“I believe you will see the selection of one or more Vanderbilt players this year,” Nashville Tennessean sportswriter and draft analyst Jeff Legwand said.

If selected, they will join 23 other Commodores selected in the draft since 1982 and 76 former players taken since it began in the 1930s. The most Vanderbilt players picked since the draft was trimmed to seven rounds a decade ago was when linebackers Jamie Winborn and Matt Stewart, kicker John Markham and cornerback Jimmy Williams were selected in 2001.

Some draft experts believe Hillenmeyer could be the first Commodore selected. Hillenmeyer’s stock increased after an on-campus workout even though he did not receive an invitation to the important NFL Combine. He followed an outstanding senior season with a Maui Hula Bowl appearance and solid workouts to jump into most experts’ top 20 linebacker lists.

“I think I have made an impression with several teams and the response has been favorable, but you just never know what will happen. It’s out of my hands now, so I’ll just sit back and wait to see what happens,” Hillenmeyer said.

Legwand has talked to NFL scouts across the nation and thinks Hillenmeyer has made an positive impression.

“People I’ve talked to really like Hillenmeyer as a quality prospect who can come to camp, learn the system and make a roster,” Legwand said. ”It is a very positive sign that Hunter’s stock has continued to rise even though he didn’t attend the combine.”

Hillenmeyer is expected to benefit from his combination of natural ability and intelligence. His selection last November as one of six National Scholar Athletes in November is cited in many publications as much as his outstanding physical size (6-4, 242). Hillenmeyer, an All-SEC player last year, also could benefit from his experience as an outside and inside linebacker.

Stricker, the Commodores’ all-time leader with 21 touchdown receptions, is hoping to become the first Vanderbilt offensive player drafted since quarterback John Gromos was taken in 1990. In tryouts, the Cincinnati native has impressed with his hands, precise route-running, ability to catch in a crowd and willingness to block. Stricker will benefit from the fact that he ranks among the all-time leading receivers in SEC history. Stricker put together a solid workout at the NFL Combine, then helped himself at Vanderbilt’s Pro Timing Day in March with an improved 40-yard clocking and position workout. Stricker has also participated in several private workouts with NFL scouts.

“I’ve been getting four or five calls a day from various teams. It’s very promising at this point,“ Stricker said. “I know some teams are interested, but at the same time, you really don’t know. “Everybody can’t be drafted in the first round. Whether it’s Saturday or Sunday, I just want to get to camp and prove that I have the skill to play in the NFL,” Stricker said.

If Stricker is selected Saturday, he will celebrate in Cincinnati with a room full of relatives. He is scheduled to serve as an usher at his cousin’s wedding Saturday evening.

Jones faces the same uncertainty as his former Commodore teammates. A four-year starter, Jones missed two postseason opportunities to impress teams when a minor injury forced him out of the Citrus Gridiron Bowl and Maui Hula Bowl. Jones has heard from several teams as a cornerback prospects. Several sources have Jones fitting in with teams that play extensive zone and two-deep coverage schemes. One such team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, won the last Super Bowl with a pair of former Commodores, Shelton Quarles and Todd Yoder, on the roster.

“You need to remember that Rushen started in the SEC for four years. That will count for something this weekend,” Legwand said.

Note: At least three other seniors from the 2002 Commodore squad - center Jamie Byrum, offensive guard Jim May and safety Justin Giboney - have been mentioned as potential draft selections. Each could sign a free agent deal with an NFL squad if they go undrafted.


Vanderbilt Athletic Department
2601 Jess Neely Drive
Nashville, TN 37212
615-322-GOLD (4653)