Darrelle Revis makes the tackle against Nebraska
Mike Zmijanac knows trouble when he hears it, and that's just what my question was when I asked how New York Jets first-round rookie Darrelle Revis stacked up against a few of the other great athletes he coached at Aliquippa High.
"Compare? Oh, we never do that here," Zmijanac said. "We'd get in big trouble. They argue back to 1952 about who was the best player."
And Aliquippa has produced a whole roster full of NFL talent. Zmijanac coached Ty Law, whom Jets fans caught a glimpse of in 2005, and Bernard "Josh" Lay, a New Orleans final cut last year now playing in NFL Europa for St. Louis. Mike Ditka's also an Aliquippa product, as is Tony Dorsett, who grew up in the western Pennsylvania city but went to Hopewell High.
Still, the veteran coach clearly likes Revis' chances in the NFL. He said his three pro-quality corners, Law, Lay and Revis, "are all such different entities, they all have different physical styles. Can Darrelle be that good? Sure."
Revis will give his new teammates and fans a glimpse of what he's got this weekend when he's expected, after a mini-vacation, to join the Jets beginning Friday for rookie minicamp practices from Saturday through Monday. If it's anything like the display he put on for University of Pittsburgh followers for three seasons or AHS faithful before that, it'll be impressive.
And to think the 6'0", 197-pounder wanted for the longest time to play his pro ball not in the NFL but in the NBA.
"His mother sent him to a Christian school, but in the spring of his freshman year, she decided to bring him here because the competition was better basketball-wise," said Zmijanac, who at that time was also the school's hoops coach. "She sat in front of me and said, 'Darrelle wants to be in the NBA some day.' I said, 'The chances of that aren't real good, but we'll see how it goes.' "
Revis kept his options open in both sports for a long time. When he was being recruited, he was looking at Pitt, Kansas, Michigan State and UConn, which have been stronger in basketball than football.
And why wouldn't he want to wait? He was excelling at both sports at Aliquippa. In his senior year, on the gridiron, he averaged more than 15 yards every time he touched the ball and scored 13 touchdowns five different ways. Then on the court he averaged almost 23 points a game as a pointguard and 2-guard.
Kevin Gorman, who covered Revis at Aliquippa and Pitt for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, said of his basketball skills: "He would drive the lane and dunk in a crowd — at 6-foot and 170 pounds. He was unbelievable."
Yet he wasn't quite showtime material. As the legend goes, his uncle, Sean Gilbert — yes, the one-time Rams DE who also played at Aliquippa — and Zmijanac convinced Revis football was the way to go.
"There are 10 pointguards in New York City who are better than you," his coach counseled him. "But there aren't 10 cornerbacks in the whole country who are better than you."
Other than one day of basketball practice for the Panthers, Revis never looked back. He became as close to a shutdown corner as there is these days, hardly getting thrown on last year, when he was a true junior, even though he was Pitt's wide-side CB. On one memorable play, he tore off from the far side of the field, around his own safety, to catch Rutgers RB Ray Rice and end a 64-yard run short of a TD.
And as a punt returner, his highlight-video play was the tackle-slipping 73-yard touchdown against West Virginia that ESPN honored as its 2006 "College Football Play of the Year."
Despite the heroics, many outside the NFL weren't raving about Revis' big-play potential. There was a perception that his speed wasn't exceptional, which perhaps was based on a 4.54-second 40 that was not an actual time — Revis claims he never ran a 40 in high school or college — but a scouting projection.
Also, Zmijanac said, "I'm not comparing Darrelle to Tony Dorsett when I'm saying this, but they don't look like they're running. He's one of those guys who runs effortlessly."
Revis ran sub-4.4 times at Pitt's Pro Day, and he also did something that still has NFL personnel people buzzing when he executed a never-seen reverse pivot on one of the turns of his exceptional 6.56-second three-cone drill.
"He told me he did it that way while he was training for it," Gorman said. "He said, 'It felt natural to me. I pulled something out of the woodwork. It's a skill. When you've got some athletic ability, you can do things like that.' "
As for Revis' character, I'll have more on that in one of my Radar blogs during this weekend's minicamp. But given the total package, it's no wonder that, after the Texans passed on him at No. 10 to take DT Amobi Okoye and the Rams did the same at No. 13 for DE Adam Carriker, the Jets traded with Carolina to jump ahead of the Steelers at No. 15, who also were rumored to covet the corner who played in their back yard.
"The Jets," said Zmijanac, who knows a thing or two about Aliquippa athletes, "got a good one."