Monday, May 10, 2004

Nick Ayers proud of former teammate


Team signed Glen Este graduate April 27

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If Matt Maupin were home this weekend instead of being held hostage in Iraq, he probably would be wearing Bengals gear and asking buddy Nick Ayers for his autograph.

But Ayers, a rookie free agent running back with the Bengals who participated in the weekend mini-camp, would pull a reverse on his friend and former Glen Este High School teammate.

[img]
Nick Ayers from Glen Este High School and Georgetown College was a high school teammate of Iraqi POW Keith Maupin.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
"He would be telling people he knew me, but, you know what, I can tell people I know him," said Ayers, 23, who played at Georgetown (Ky.) College. "He's going to come home one day, and he's going to be an American hero.

"And I'll say, 'I know Matt Maupin.' It's not that he knows me, it's that I know him."

Iraqi insurgents are holding Army Pfc. Keith "Matt" Maupin captive. The Batavia resident was captured April 9 when his fuel convoy was attacked near Baghdad.

Ayers was one of 18 rookie free agents who signed April 27 with the Bengals.

After a successful four-year career at Georgetown, where he and the Tigers won two NAIA national titles, Ayers wanted to share the news of his NFL signing with friends who live in and around Mount Carmel and Batavia in suburban Clermont County.

But Ayers, who scored 53 touchdowns at Georgetown as a 230-pound back, kept quiet. He couldn't get too excited when his community and high school were awash in yellow ribbons and praying for Maupin's safe return. He has twice run into Maupin's brother Micah on visits home.

"It's because of guys like Matt that I get a chance to play football," Ayers said.

Ayers, a 1999 Glen Este graduate, and Maupin, a 2001 graduate, both played football.

Ayers started. The over-achieving Maupin played as a backup wide receiver and on special teams. He also won the school's scholar-athlete award for maintaining a 3.5 GPA.

When Ayers was out of football for a year, Maupin asked him to help him lift weights. They worked out together frequently.

"He'd always say, 'Thank you for helping me,' " Ayers said. "I'd always tell him, 'It was nothing.'

"Matt is always the kind of person who's helping people. He makes you realize that you have to pass (good deeds) forward."

Maupin enlisted in the Army Reserves out of duty and to earn money to pay for college. He's like a lot of young men and women who go to Glen Este, Ayers said. They want to make good with their lives and join the military.

Any reference to the military or report on Iraq brings Maupin to Ayers' mind. A member of the 724th Transportation Co., Maupin, on April 19, was declared captured.

Ayers is going to make the most of his opportunity to play in the NFL. His friend would want that.

During mini-camp weekend, Ayers stayed at a hotel with the other rookie free agents but received permission from the Bengals to drive his car to Paul Brown Stadium.

"He's up at 5 every morning," said Ray Ayers, Nick's father and a Glen Este administrator and assistant football coach, "so they let him come over early to study his playbook."

Running backs coach Jim Anderson left his office door unlocked for Ayers, who arrived at 5:30 a.m. The rookies had their first meetings at 7:30 a.m. this weekend.

On the field, Ayers didn't have to be told to finish plays. Though league rules don't allow for pads and tackling, defenders are always punching at the ball. Ayers was careful to cradle it with both hands when running through traffic, and he sprinted downfield into the clear on every carry or reception.

Ayers attracted immediate attention because of his jersey. The equipment manager issued him No. 28, worn by three-time Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon until his trade three weeks ago.

"It's getting me noticed a little bit, so that's OK," Ayers said.

So did his work ethic.

"He's got a lot of energy," Anderson said. "He learns. He retains information very well. He wants to play. He's a salmon swimming upstream, and he wants to be the one who lives."

Ayers is a long-shot at best to make the team. He's behind veterans Rudi Johnson, Kenny Watson and Skip Hicks and first-round pick Chris Perry. Ayers' immediate goal is to stick until training camp back at Georgetown.

And when his football career ends, whether it's sooner or later, Ayers - just a couple of classes shy of a degree in kinesiology - plans to attend graduate school to become a special education teacher.

Right now he's all football, but with a life perspective - thanks, in part, to Maupin's plight - beyond his years.

"We should be thankful we live in the country that we do, and where I get the opportunity to play football," Ayers said. "I appreciate everything I have here. I get to be a Cincinnati Bengal every day until they cut me."

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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