Sulking over three years of minimal playing time is a memory for Leroy Vann, the two-time All- American who was picked up after the NFL Draft Saturday by the San Francisco 49ers.
The Tampa, Fla., native was at home with family when he received a call on his cell phone from 49er’s head coach Mike Singletary.
At the end of the 2009 college football season, the former Florida A&M student put school on the back burner to enter the draft, even though he was only one semester shy of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
“I feel like I always have time to go back,” Vann said. “This has always been my dream.”
Vann relocated to Atlanta, living at a standard hotel his newly hired agent arranged. He vigorously trained at the Dream Factory in Duluth, Ga., six days a week from 10:30 a.m. to noon executing L-drills and short shuttles.
“I do a lot of running also,” he added.
The routine exercises were in preparation for the draft and to ensure that he shined when working out with teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars on March 15. But it also prepared him for FAMU’s pro day, held March 18, where scouts come to observe prominent players as they perform drills showcasing their quickness and coordination.
Vann arrived in Tallahassee three days before the event, set to impress spectators who are well aware of the standout cornerback/kick return man.
“This journey has been like a roller coaster,” Vann said. “Everything in life has its ups and downs. But if you keep a positive mindset and don’t let [anything] break you, you can be successful.”
However, Vann’s success is not only for him but also for his 4-month-old son. Javin was an unexpected blessing for the 23-year-old who felt more determined than ever to go pro so he can financially support his son.
“Now I have to work hard because I have a mouth to feed,” he said. “I’m on a mission to the top.”
Constant faith and motivation didn’t always earn Vann the spotlight or recognition.
His third year, the Rattler was ready to wash his hands clean of football all together due to lack of playing time.
“I don’t believe in bad mouthing coaches,” he said. “I’ll say he [Rubin Carter] already had his favorites and already picked upper classman that was going to perform to his potential.”
However, Vann’s decision swayed when he discovered head coach Carter was fired during Christmas break and Joe Taylor, former coach at Hampton University, was replacing him.
With an open-mind Vann committed to proving himself at spring training to the new head coach.
After earning the respect of his coaches, Vann set himself up to shine his senior year.
When kick returner Philip Sylvester got injured, coach Taylor allowed the restrained cornerback to expose his abilities.
As the season progressed, Vann put up impressive numbers. Records were set, media attention cultivated, and suddenly Vann’s playing time on the football field amplified. Media outlets such as ESPN and the NFL network began following the return specialists.
Vann became the fifth player in NCAA FCS history to reach at least 1,000 yards in both punt returns and kickoff returns. He also set the NCAA record with 11 combined returns for touchdowns. Vann surpassed FAMU’s 1988 All-American Howard Huckaby’s four touchdown punt returns with five in a single-season.
Besides the 49ers, other teams such as the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars examined the talented player. Vann was actually expecting to be picked up by the Jaguars.
“I was upset [while watching the draft] because the team that said they were going to sign me did not,” he said. “Once, I got the phone call (from the 49ers) I cheered up and was happy.”
The rookie heads to California on Thursday for mini camp.
“This is just a dream come true,” Vann said.