LAST SPRING, as the Detroit Lions' brass met to discuss prospects for the upcoming NFL draft, coach Steve Mariucci said, "Is it me, or are these kids coming out smarter and more mature than they've ever been?"
Though the evidence is anecdotal, Mariucci is probably on to something. For starters, players are being coached by agents and retired NFL scouts to prepare them for predraft interviews and personality tests--but it's not just that. "You look at their history," Mariucci said, "and their SAT scores are higher, many of them don't drink, none of them smoke, and fewer have ever done drugs."
Consider Ben Roethlisberger, whom the Steelers selected from Miami (Ohio) with the 11th overall pick. His football skills were obvious, but what also impressed Pittsburgh was Big Ben's character, especially his loyalty. Roethlisberger didn't start at quarterback until his senior year at Findlay (Ohio) High, and after throwing six TD passes in the season opener, Miami was the first school to offer him a scholarship. By midseason he was playing so well that many big-time schools were showing interest. But after visiting Oxford, Ohio, later that fall, he canceled his remaining trips--including one to Ohio State--and committed to the RedHawks.
Then there's Mewelde Moore (above). When the Vikings sought a running back, they centered on the versatile former Tulane star whose prospects had slipped because of a lousy 40yard dash time (4.6 seconds) at the combine. Minnesota selected Moore in the fourth round because it was impressed with his ability to accomplish things off the field as well as on it. In his final semester Moore took eight classes (yes, eight) to finish a double major (accounting and finance). Says Moore: "I promised my mom I'd graduate on time."
FERNANDO MEDINA/WIREIMAGE.COM (ROETHLISBERGER)