Arizona football is accustomed to success stories in the NFL when its players are drafted, but what about those Wildcats who go undrafted, like what happened to Matt Scott last week?
After the Wildcats had 18 players drafted in the three previous years, not one of Arizona’s players were taken in the seven rounds last week. That does not mean Scott or any of the other former Wildcats who signed as undrafted free agents will not succeed.
Arizona has 10 first-round selections in the program’s history, but it also has nine players who were not selected during the draft but lasted at least five years in the NFL.
Scott, who stated through his Twitter handle (@mscottqb10) that he has a chip on his shoulder for being snubbed during the draft, can use the success stories of these five former undrafted Wildcats as encouragement (interesting to note that three of them got their start with the Redskins):
Josh Miller, punter: One of the valuable members during the Desert Swarm era because of his ability to pin opponents deep into their territory, he started his pro career with Baltimore — of the Canadian Football League — in 1994. He played for the Stallions, and became the CFL’s top punter, after Green Bay cut him in its preseason camp. After his two years with Baltimore, he tried to gain a spot with the Seattle Seahawks but was released before the 1996 season. Pittsburgh took a chance with him that year and the rest is history. He lasted 12 years in the NFL with the Steelers, New England and Tennessee. His career average was 43.1 yards, and he was a member of New England’s Super Bowl XXXIX championship team.
Antonio Pierce, linebacker: At 6-foot-1, Pierce was deemed too short by scouts to be an NFL linebacker. The Redskins respected Pierce’s tenacity and athletic ability and signed him as an undrafted free agent. Pierce started eight games as a rookie, showing he had the skills for a long and successful NFL career. He played nine seasons overall, highlighted by a successful stint with the Giants. He was a Pro Bowler with New York in 2006 and won a Super Bowl with the Giants after the 2007 season. “I watched 30 linebackers get drafted before me,” Pierce told Complex.com. “I thought I had a chance to get drafted because I had a solid to pretty good college career … All I wanted was an opportunity, and when I got that opportunity, I said ‘You know what? Now they’re screwed’ because I had my list. I just constantly started marking off names and remembered every player that got drafted in front of me.”
Bob Whitlow, offensive lineman: The Redskins utilized Whitlow in 1960 mostly as a special teams player after he made the cut. A couple of games into his rookie season, he recovered a fumble on a St. Louis punt return. His career blossomed from there. The Redskins resigned him the following year with fellow offensive lineman Tom Osborne, the legendary former Nebraska coach and athletic director. Whitlow’s nine-year NFL career included four seasons with Detroit, two as a full-time starter as a center. He also played guard in his career. At age 77 today, Whitlow is one of the oldest living professional football players. Whitlow is the only NFL player to also compete in USAC and NASCAR stockcar events. He did that in the 1970s after his NFL career ended.
Rickie Harris, defensive back: After graduating from Arizona in 1965, Harris signed as an undrafted free agent with Washington and started as a special teams player. Harris played eight seasons in the NFL, the first six with the Redskins before finishing with New England. He had 15 interceptions in his career, including three in his final season with the Patriots in 1972. Ironically, Harris’ surprising success in the NFL may have created problems in his personal life today. Harris was convicted of felony drunk driving last year by a Fairfax (Va.) County jury. During the trial, the defense argued that Harris’ problems were spurred by his dementia, a condition that Harris and his family believe was induced by hits he took as a defensive back and kick returner during his NFL career.
Warren Livingston, defensive back: Livingston, a six-year veteran with Dallas, not only succeeded after signing as an undrafted free agent, he overcame a broken arm and a release by the Cowboys two seasons into his career. Livingston compiled 10 interceptions in his career. Nine of those came in the last four years of his career, when he played every game with the Cowboys following his release and then re-acquisition by Dallas. Livingston’s career with Dallas from 1961-66 coincided with the beginning of the Tom Landry era. Landry, whose 29-year coaching career with Dallas started in 1960, spoke highly of Livingston’s speed and instincts. Livingston’s education at Arizona — he earned an electrical engineering degree — set him up for a prosperous life after football with Motorola in Phoenix.
Javier Morales is a long-time sports journalist from Tucson. A former Arizona Press Club award winner, Morales will be a contributing writer for ZonaZealots.com. He is the publisher, writer and editor for WILDABOUTAZCATS.net. He is also a contributing blogger for TucsonCitizen.com.