Sidelines: Alaska fullback waits for NFL call

Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2003

A sporting legend looms on the NFL draft board in 2003. A few years back Sports Illustrated put together lists of the 50 greatest sports figures for each of the 50 states. So talented was the Texas list that Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Dick "Night Train" Lane ranked a modest 17th.

Illinois and Ohio placed a couple of legendary coaches at 17 - Knute Rockne for Illinois and Woody Hayes for Ohio. Michigan and New York placed a couple of boxing champions at 17 - Thomas Hearns for Michigan and Gene Tunney for New York. Thoroughbred champion Man O' War placed 17th for Kentucky.

Keeping company with the Lanes and Rocknes at 17 from the state of Alaska was schoolboy football legend Brandon Drumm, who just finished up his college career as a fullback at Colorado. Ask him about his ranking among Alaska's sporting elite, and Drumm grins.

"My [Colorado] teammates would kid me that there are dog mushers and ice fisherman ahead of me," Drumm said.

Make it five mushers, no fishermen and only three other football players - Mark Schlereth, Reggie Tongue and Rocky Klever, all of whom went on to play in the NFL. Drumm will get his chance this fall as one of the top fullbacks in the 2003 NFL draft.

But his college career didn't resemble his high school career. Drumm was the best at whatever he tried at Anchorage's Service High School.

As a freshman, Drumm led the state with eight interceptions as a defensive back. Then he set the state record for interceptions in a season with nine as a junior. Drumm also set state single-season records for rushing yards (2,273) and touchdowns (36) as a senior.

Drumm ran three kickoffs back for touchdowns as a senior and finished with 24 career interceptions. His best game was a 368-yard, nine-touchdown rushing performance against the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears as a junior.

But Drumm didn't rush for 368 yards in his career at Colorado. A two-year starter, Drumm carried the ball 23 times in his career and caught 39 passes. At 6-1, 233 pounds, his job was to be the lead blocker for All-Big 12 tailback Chris Brown.

"I'm over not getting the ball as much as I used to," Drumm said. "I adapted and did what my team needed me to do to win. We have a lot of great backs at CU, and I kind of accepted my role as a fullback."

Drumm was thankful for the chance to play major college football. Despite his prominence in the country's largest state, Drumm knew he was off the beaten track for recruiters.

"You didn't see coaches coming up to Alaska to recruit you and go to your games every weekend like guys in California and other places," Drumm said. "[College] coaches can't just jump in their car and go to the game. You've got to plan a flight and make all the arrangements."

So Drumm and his father became proactive. Drumm attended several football camps in the Lower 48 before his senior season, and then sent out highlight films to the top college programs during the fall. If college coaches couldn't or wouldn't come to Alaska, Drumm would come to them.

Drumm attended football camps at Arizona State, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Washington to get a feel for his own abilities.

"You compare yourself to the talent around the country, seeing if you can compete, seeing how good you are and getting a feel for how Alaska football compared to the lower 48," Drumm said.

Brandon Drumm was an important part of Colorado's potent running game. Drumm didn't feel out of place. The major colleges didn't consider him out of place in their recruiting classes, either. He became the most-heavily recruited player to come out of Alaska and mulled scholarship offers from Arizona State, Cal, Nebraska and Washington State before settling on Colorado.

"Colorado had a lot of similarities to Anchorage with the mountains, the snow, the outdoors," Drumm said. "That's what brought me there."

Klever and Schlereth also were from Anchorage, and Tongue was from Fairbanks. Klever played his college ball at Montana, Schlereth at Idaho and Tongue at Oregon State.

Klever, who attended West Anchorage High School, was a ninth-round draft pick by the New York Jets in 1982. Schlereth, a Service grad who now works as a football analyst for ESPN, was selected in the 10th round by the Washington Redskins in 1989 and finished his career with the Denver Broncos. Tongue, who played for Lathrop High, was a second-round choice of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1996 and now plays for the Seattle Seahawks.

The only other Alaska players to see action in the NFL are current Atlanta Falcons defensive end Travis Hall, who attended Kenai Central High School, and three retired players - offensive lineman Tom Neville of Eielson, defensive end Shane Bonham of Lathrop and defensive end Mao Tosi of East Anchorage (who attended Bartlett as a freshman and sophomore).

But fullbacks aren't high priorities on draft day. The top fullback in the 2002 draft (Jamar Martin of Ohio State) went in the fourth round and the top fullback in 2001 (Heath Evans of Auburn) went in the third round. Drumm figures to be drafted somewhere between Tongue and Klever, probably a mid-round pick (the draft has seven rounds).

Drumm sees himself fitting into an NFL offense as a cross between Mike Alstott, Tom Rathman and Jon Ritchie.

"I fit the mold of the West Coast fullback," Drumm said. "Catching the ball out of the backfield has to be one of my best attributes - using my hands and getting the ball every once in a while.

"The triple threat adds a whole different dimension to an offense. When you've got a fullback who can do those type of things, your offense is going to be successful."

Drumm isn't an Alaska native. He was born Olympia, Wash., but moved to Anchorage at age 6 when his father was offered part ownership of a car dealership there. When his NFL days are over, Drumm plans to return to his adopted state.

"I like to fish," Drumm said. "I'm going to be a fishing guide the rest of my life. Maybe have an outdoor guide service, hunting and fishing."

Why would one of the state's legends want to live anywhere else?

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