Monday, April 28, 2003

A lifetime lived in 8 days


Dennis Weathersby was shot on Easter. A week later, he became a pro football player

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Oregon State cornerback Dennis Weathersby, selected by the Bengals Sunday in the NFL Draft.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
A little more than a week ago, Dennis Weathersby's biggest concern was where he would be selected in the NFL draft.

Late first round, early second was how the former Oregon State cornerback - and some draft experts - had it figured.

Then, on Easter Sunday afternoon, Weathersby was walking to his pickup outside the suburban Los Angeles home of a friend when a bullet tore through his back.

Police say Weathersby was an innocent victim of a gang-related, drive-by shooting in his hometown of Duarte, Calif.

"Makes me look at things differently," Weathersby, 22, said of the incident. "I can't take anything for granted. I have to be thankful for my opportunities. Lets me know the next day is not given."

Weathersby knows he is lucky to be alive. The bullet passed beneath his lungs, exited his torso and struck his left arm. He lost consciousness and half of his blood, he said. No surgery was required. He was released Friday from the hospital.

The bullet remains lodged in his upper left arm, just beneath the skin, and will be removed Tuesday. Weathersby won't be in Cincinnati for the May 2-4 minicamp but should be cleared for full contact for the July 27 start of training camp.

WEATHERSBY FILE
[img]
POSITION: Cornerback
SCHOOL: Oregon State
SIZE: 6-0, 204
HOMETOWN: Duarte, Calif.
CAREER NOTES: Mainstay in the OSU secondary since his freshman year ... 5 interceptions, 56 deflections ... All-Academic Pac-10 three times ... 4.6 in 40.
MORE DETAILS: NFL profile
The Bengals had Weathersby slotted as a second-round pick and didn't lose interest because of the shooting.

Team doctors arranged to have other physicians examine Weathersby. They cleared him. Coaches made more calls to investigate his background. Coach Marvin Lewis talked to Weathersby for 20 minutes Saturday night. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was on the phone with him again Sunday morning.

"There have been some chinks in the armor lately," Lewis said of Weathersby. "He has the ability to be a great corner in the NFL. We're going to push him to do that, prod him and keep our foot on the back of his neck.

"He's not a gang guy."

Weathersby had a 3.8 GPA at Duarte High School, where his No. 12 football jersey was just retired. It's the same high school that produced actor and writer Sam Shepard and former big-league baseball player Bill Melton.

Social studies teacher Bob Leach took special interest in Weathersby, who became a teaching assistant as a senior.

"He took all the hard math classes, all the college-prep courses," Leach said. "He writes extremely well. You don't often see the combination of such athletic and academic talent in one person."

Weathersby was a four-time All-America selection for four years at Oregon State and earned his bachelor's degree in liberal studies in December.

As a young student, he would come home from school and do his homework before going outside to play, said his mother, Kathlene Weathersby, 46, who worked at night as a certified nursing assistant. Dennis also minded his older sister, Shermaie Barnes, who is six years older.

"He always listened. He never gave me a problem," Kathlene said.

Duarte is a tough, working-class town of about 22,000, located about 10 miles east of Pasadena and northeast of downtown L.A. Its population is about 45 percent white and Hispanic and 10 percent African-American. Hispanic gang members riding in a white SUV fired the shots, Weathersby said.

"I pretty much got caught either in a gang-related incident or because of the fact of my skin color. I'm just going to keep it real," said Weathersby, who is African-American. "I don't know those guys. It was a random thing. A lot of random things happen out in my city."

Several thoughts ran through his mind as the shooting unfolded.

"I don't want to die. I hope it's not a serious injury. I hope I can walk," Weathersby said.

His friend, Calvin Byrd, drove him 10 minutes to Santa Teresita Hospital. Weathersby said Byrd's house was shot up on Easter Sunday 2002, as well.

Lewis dismissed talk that Weathersby has a character problem.

"Where he is from, I coached in Southern California, I recruited Southern California. Not all people are brought up the same way," Lewis said.

Weathersby is 6-0, 204 pounds and started 45 of 48 games during his career at Oregon State. He had 118 career tackles and five interceptions. The Bengals envision him as a cornerback who will jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.

"We like his size, which will enable him to match up with some of the bigger receivers in our league," Frazier said. "His strength is press coverage. He was an all-PAC 10 guys two years in a row, in a conference where they pass the ball quite a bit."

Weathersby said he was disappointed in his falling draft position but understands why he dropped on so many boards.

He looks forward to coming to Cincinnati.

"Things happen for a reason," he said. "I'm happy the Bengals considered taking me. The first pick in the fourth round has me excited to be a Bengal."

He also has learned a lesson.

"Tomorrow," he said, "is not promised."

Today is challenging enough.

He is taking iron pills to restore his blood health. Transfusions are not the answer. He is physically weak, able only to get up and walk to the bathroom to brush his hair or teeth before having to sit back down.

But, on Sunday, his mother said, his appetite showed improvement His spirits are coming up.

"He's a good kid, a tough kid, and he will learn from this," Kathlene Weathersby said.

The adversity in the wake of the shooting won't be the first he has had to overcome. He said he deals with the knock of not playing hard on each snap and having an attitude problem.

He is shy and doesn't easily trust other people.

"Don't go by what everybody else says about this attitude problem and character issue," Weathersby said. "It's been labeled on me for so long. The reason I say that - I can only do so much, academically and on the field - and the only thing anybody has to say is about my character. I just don't like that. I feel like I'm a good guy. I'll do it my own way, a respectful way, and get my job done."

Weathersby at a glance

Position: Cornerback

School: Oregon State

Size: 6-foot, 204 pounds

Hometown: Duarte, Calif.

Fast facts: Started 45 of 48 games at Oregon State with five interceptions. He was all PAC-10 Conference performer as junior and senior and was all-America academic team for four years. Weathersby intercepted a pass thrown by his new teammate, Southern Cal quarterback Carson Palmer, during the 2000 season.

Rookie projection: Will challenge for starting job and likely end up as a reserve.

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com

Other second-day Bengals draft picks

Fourth round

JEREMI JOHNSON

POSITION: FB

SCHOOL: Western Kentucky

HEIGHT: 5-11

WEIGHT: 266

HOMETOWN: Louisville, Ky.

CAREER NOTES: A physical back, he transferred from Indiana after his junior season. Rushed for 931 yards and caught 23 passes in 15 games for the I-AA champion Hilltoppers last season.

ROOKIE PROJECTION: Will compete for a starting spot at fullback.

Fifth round

KHALID ABDULLAH

POSITION: OLB

SCHOOL: Mars Hill

HEIGHT: 6-2

WEIGHT: 227

HOMETOWN: Jacksonville Beach, Fla.

CAREER NOTES: Ranked second on team with 98 tackles and had five sacks. His brother, Rahim, played linebacker for the Browns during the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

ROOKIE PROJECTION: Because of his speed and physical style, Abdullah likely will see time on special teams.

Sixth round

LANGSTON MOORE

POSITION: DT

SCHOOL: South Carolina

HEIGHT: 6-1

WEIGHT: 303

HOMETOWN: Charleston, S.C.

CAREER NOTES: An honorable mention All-American his senior season, Moore had 60 tackles and three sacks in 2002. Also was a member of South Carolina's track team, placing 12th in the 2001 SEC Indoor Championships.

ROOKIE PROJECTION: Will get a look as an interior lineman.

Seventh round

SCOTT KOOISTRA

POSITION: OT

SCHOOL: N.C. State

HEIGHT: 6-7

WEIGHT: 316

HOMETOWN: Cary, N.C.

CAREER NOTES: A three year starter at N.C. State. Played in 14 games last season, recording 73 knockdowns.

ROOKIE PROJECTION: Is a candidate to back up Willie Anderson.

Seventh round

ELTON PATTERSON

POSITION: DE

SCHOOL: Central Florida

HEIGHT: 6-2

WEIGHT: 271

HOMETOWN: Tallahassee, Fla.

CAREER NOTES: A three-year starter and defensive captain at Central Florida. His 60 career tackles for a loss set a school record. Is the youngest of 10 children.

ROOKIE PROJECTION: Expected to work primarily at left end.




NFL DRAFT
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Team-by-team draft

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PLAN YOUR DAY
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