By Jack Brennan
LaVell Boyd likes Louisville.
His family moved there from Long Island when he was 14. He had great teenage years in the Crescent City, including a football career at Doss High that made him the leading receiver in Jefferson County history. He stayed in his new home for college, and became a Conference USA record-setter at the University of Louisville.
Boyd likes the Bengals, too.
"I started following the Bengals when we moved; all their games were on TV in Louisville," Boyd said. "Right away, the Bengals became my team."
Boyd's next goal is to become one of the Bengals' players. A tall and muscular wide receiver (6-3, 220), he's vying to make the team as an undrafted rookie free agent.
And he's very aware, he said, that no player from the University of Louisville has ever enjoyed a significant pro career in Cincinnati.
"I want to be the first," he said. "I want to help make Louisville an all-Bengals town. I never did like the (Indianapolis) Colts."
Louisville has sent plenty of players to the NFL, including a quarterback named Unitas. More recent top contributors from UL include Doug Buffone, Otis Wilson, Tom Jackson, Mark Clayton, Ted Washington, Dwayne Woodruff, Frank Minnifield, Bruce Armstrong, Ernest Givins and Joe Jacoby. There is no shortage of talent 110 miles down the Ohio from Paul Brown Stadium.
Five players from Louisville appear on the Bengals all-time roster, meaning they were in uniform for at least one regular season game. But none hung around long enough to establish any friendly alumni connection between the Bengals and their major college neighbor to the southwest.
Here's the list:
- CB Rico Clark: Played in eight games for the Bengals last season, but was waived Dec. 14. RB Nathan Poole: Played for the Bengals in parts of two seasons (1979-80), but posted the unfortunate offensive totals of 6 rushes for 3 yards (0.5) and 3 receptions for minus-14 yards. TE Curtis Jeffries: Was a strike replacement player for three games in 1987. LB Ed Harmon: A reserve who played 11 games in 1969. LB John Neidert: Played briefly in 1968.
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Can Boyd succeed where these others have fallen short and carve a notable Bengals career? As an undrafted rookie, he'll have to earn any foothold he can gain.
But players in this category have managed to make it for more than just a cameo appearance with Cincinnati. LB Adrian Ross a good recent example. CB Rodney Heath has only one season in the books at present, but his 1999 performance was quite promising.
And if Boyd needs a higher goal, he can note that Bengals defensive line great Tim Krumrie was the 276th selection in the 1983 Draft. The 2000 Draft had only 254 choices, and Boyd might well have been drafted himself had 22 more picks been made.
"LaVell had some feelers from teams in the last two rounds," said Steve Mooshagian, Bengals receivers coach, "and there were five or six teams after him as a free agent."
In the end, Boyd didn't make the cut to 254 because teams questioned his speed.
"I had a workout that hurt me for the draft," Boyd said. "I had been sick, and my weight was down to 206, and I ran a 4.62 (in the 40-yard dash). If I had run that speed at my normal weight (220), it would have looked a lot better. And now I've gotten my speed down to 4.55."
Boyd has improved his speed, both in timings and in a functional football sense, by working out with John Davies, a personal trainer and coach who has had success with speed work. Davies' past students include Packers QB Brett Favre and sprinter Ben Johnson. Davies is a friend of Mooshagian's. That, plus Boyd's past attachment to the Bengals as a fan, helped make his decision to sign with Cincinnati rather than considering the other NFL teams which pursued him as a free agent.
"Speed will be the key for LaVell as far as making the team, that and how much contribution he can make on special teams," said Mooshagian. "He's got the other credentials -- great hands, strength, and a consistent record as a producer in college."
Boyd topped the 60-catch mark in each of his final two seasons at Louisville.
"I'm confident," Boyd said last week during voluntary workout camp. "As soon as I pick up the offense, which I'm doing right now, I think I can make some people notice me."
For the sake of a Louisville connection, the Bengals would love to see it happen.