By Tom E. Curran
On the third day of the 2012 NFL Draft, after 223 young men had already been selected, Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was chosen by the Patriots.
Until a week before the draft, the 100 or so friends and family gathered in the Wilcox High gym in Georgia figured they'd be celebrating a proud moment for a native son.
But after Dennard got arrested for assaulting a police officer and spent the weekend before the draft in jail, the tenor of the event changed some.
Relief trumped rejoice. Bad enough that Dennard had gone about 150 spots after he could have been drafted, imagine if he hadn't been selected at all?
No sympathetic looks were sent Dennard's way, no attempts at deciphering his outward level of disappointment. He'd left the event hours earlier.
Their native son was the nation's example of what a stupid incident less than a week before the draft can do to your NFL employment prospects.
Dennard punched a cop. That's what the incident report from a night out in Lincoln, Nebraska says and Dennard will be arraigned on the charge this Wednesday.
While the offense carries a maximum five-year prison term, even if Dennard's found guilty, jail seems a remote possibility since he's got no history of legal troubles.
In fact, Dennard's paying for the incident already both in the amount of money he would have made as a second or third-round pick (his pre-incident projection) and in reputation and embarrassment.
The Patriots haven't made Dennard available to the media. But his agent, Brian Murphy, said that Dennard had a surprising reaction to his draft freefall.
"His reaction to the whole process was mind-boggling to me because he said, 'Things happen the way they're supposed to happen. And this is all happening for a reason and all I can do is prove everyone wrong and show that I'm a great cornerback, a great teammate and a great man and he wants to reward the Patriots for the faith they showed,' " said Murphy. "I wouldn't describe him as down and out."
As Dennard's agent, Murphy has an obvious interest in putting a positive face on a negative situation. But coupling Murphy's comments with those made by Dennard's head coach at Nebraska and by Bill Belichick, the notion Dennard's arrest was completely out of character is more believable.
"That isn't who he is, that's never been who he is, and that's not going to be who he is in the future," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said to ESPNBoston's Field Yates. "And I put my reputation, and I put everything I stand for as a football coach behind that young man."He is a tremendous young man, and one who you want not only representing you as a football player, but the type of kid you want in your community, the type of kid you want representing your organization."Meanwhile, Belichick told SIRIUS-XM's NFL Radio that, "We just don't feel that's who he is, or even how the account of the incident came out in some places, that's what happened. But we'll see. Bottom line is we were comfortable with him, and that if he did make a mistake like so many of us have, that he'll be able to represent our organization and our team the way we want it represented and we were comfortable taking him."
That so many people showed up to Dennard's draft party even with the legal issues shows a healthy respect for Dennard among people who know him well.
"He's a perfect representative of the town and they're so proud of him," said Murphy. "When I met him, it was always, 'Yes, sir; No, sir; Yes, Mr. Murphy.' When I asked what was important to him, he said taking care of his mom and representing his town well. It was a neat experience watching how the people in town reacted to him."
Murphy got to know Dennard well after the 22-year-old agreed to be represented by Murphy's firm.
"When they sign with Athlete's First, they come out to California and train at our academy," Murphy explained. "We literally see them every day and we get to know them pretty well. And we had 13 or 14 people out there including (Patriots third-round chouce) Jake Bequette and of all those guys, Alfonzo was as polite, respectful, quiet and hard-working as anyone. He's the type of guy you want to represent because you know he's not going to get in trouble, ironically. ... We described him to many teams as, 'This is a guy you don't have to worry about. He just wants to play football and take care of his family.' "
According to Murphy, the past 10 months have been filled with adversity for Dennard. To be candid, though, some of it - like the Lincoln arrest and a fight with South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery in the Capital One Bowl - was self-created.
A thigh injury (Murphy described as "severe") early in his senior season and a hip injury before the Senior Bowl were other issues Dennard faced.
"Those were three things that happened during the course of the season that built his character through adversity," Murphy explained. "Each time he said, 'I'm going to learn from this, I'm going to get better from this.' "
Regardless of what happens Wednesday, the jury will remain out on Dennard until some time passes.
Declarations that his arrest is "Not who Alfonzo is..." won't carry any weight if he can't stay trouble-free.
He's got people who believe in him, though. From Foxboro to Lincoln, Nebraska to Georgia a lot of people insist Dennard is worth backing.