Rookies get schooled

6-27-01, 11:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Maybe it was former Pro Bowl wide receiver Irving Fryar telling them they wouldn't get the number of chances he did because the public spotlight is blinding compared to the darkness of a decade ago.

Maybe it was the skit in which a NFL player arrives home to find his brother has arranged for him to receive $20,000 of stolen property for $2,500.

Maybe it was the neatly printed numbers that tell the still ugly pace of AIDS and the perils of unsafe sex.

Maybe it was Denver running back Mike Anderson telling them to, "Keep your mouth shut and listen."

Whatever it was, Bengals third-round draft pick Sean Brewer came out of this week's NFL Rookie Symposium awed by the seamy side of his new profession.

"I'm paranoid now. This is as paranoid as I've ever been in my life," said Brewer from the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va. "I'm afraid of everything out there. Money. Women. I don't know if I want to go back outside."

Brewer had no problem making that decision because the NFL's 245 drafted rookies weren't allowed to leave the grounds during their three-day introduction into the NFL.

Not only that, there was a nightly 12:30 a.m. bed check. Not only that, there was a daily 6:45 a.m. wakeup call for day- and night-long

long meetings in which the players weren't allowed to have cell phones or pagers, or wear do rags, bandanas and sun glasses.

"They're pretty strict around here," Brewer said. "You can get yelled at and get fined for being late to a meeting."

There was also a ban on alcohol, drugs and tobacco. And for a guy like Brewer trying to kick his tobacco chewing habit, going cold turkey this week is no small feat.

"I'm sure he felt like he could have used a can at some point, but he did what he was told and stuck to it and you have to hand it to him for that," said Bengals director of player relations Eric Ball.

"I think all our guys were impressed," Ball said. "They come from different backgrounds and upbringings and so I think different things stood out to them."

Ball led the Bengals' contingent of seven rookies to the Leesburg seminar that broke up Wednesday. The NFL has staged the event for the last several years to educate their newest players on the world's oldest pitfalls. As he starts his second year on the job, Ball thought this symposium surpassed last year's seminar in San Diego.

"Instead of being in a big ballroom listening to speakers most of the time, they broke into smaller groups more often," Ball said. "When they went to the smaller cell groups, it opened up the players a little bit more and they seemed more comfortable talking about things with the other guys."

Brewer, a tight end from San Jose State, enjoyed the small groups as well as the speakers. The symposium didn't have the headline speaker like Ray Lewis last year, when the Ravens Pro Bowl middle linebacker arrived fresh off his double murder trial.

But the recently retired Fryar had plenty of scrapbook things to say as he chronicled how he grappled with drug and alcohol for much of his brilliant 17-year career.

The gag among the New England media during Fryar's drug-plagued heyday with the Patriots was he couldn't handle a knife, fork or spoon. That was after he was involved in a knife incident during a domestic dispute. At around the same time, he wrecked his car when he failed to negotiate a fork in the road.

"The man spoke for 45 minutes and he was just very impressive because he went through it all," Brewer said. "He's the guy that stuck with me once I let it sink in. He just kept coming back to the same thing.

" 'Do what's right and you'll be all right. Do what you're told.' And what made you listen was here was a guy who was around for so long and went through so much."

Fryar warned the rookies his descent into the hell fires of cocaine free basing started when he was 13, when he smoked a joint of marijuana given to him by his uncle.

One drug leading to a harder drug would seem obvious. But apparently the obvious is what needs to be pounded into people. Ball said some of his rookies were surprised at the presentation on HIV and AIDs.

"I think they went in with one kind of mindset and and came out with another," Ball said. "There's just not enough education. It's not in the headlines like it was eight, 10 years ago, and people seem to think there have been cures and that not many people get it anymore. But really, just the opposite is true."

Guard Victor Leyva, the club's fifth-rounder from Arizona State, also invoked parts of Fryar's speech. But he left thinking a lot about money.

"The insights into financial planning were a little surprising to me and seemed pretty important," Leyva. "You can lose it as fast as you can make it."

The financial pitfalls were driven home in a variety of skits played out by professional actors.

"That always gets a lot of response," Ball said, "because it's real life."

Leyva admitted Anderson's admonition to listen got people to listen. Anderson, a sixth-round draft pick last year who became a 1,000-yard rusher, was part of the "Life as a Rookie," discussion moderated by Giants veteran running back Tiki Barber.

Also on the panel were other guys off their rookie years in Browns receiver JaJuan Dawson, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher Giants, and Falcons tackle Mike Thompson.

"He said you have to gain the respect of the veterans," Leyva said of Anderson. "The best way to do that was to keep your mouth shut and just concentrate on playing hard and the respect would come with performance."

Leyva and Brewer were able to work out during the three days. But just barely. The league gave the rookies only 90 minutes to eat and train between the last afternoon session and first night session.

"It was the first time someone really sat down and told you what something was going to be like and gave it to you straight," Brewer said. "These guys have been through it. You have to respect that and believe it."

Brewer headed home to California from Leesburg with a little different view of the league. And some extra baggage. A huge loose-leaf notebook he says he'll study as much as the Bengals' formations.

"It's a playbook for life," Brewer said.

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