Stallworth's Next Move Up to NFL

Thursday, April 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Donte Stallworth has a habit of changing his mind.

He wavered on signing with Tennessee out of high school and wrestled with leaving college early to be an NFL receiver.

Stallworth doesn't have to decide his next move. Soon it will be time for NFL owners, managers and coaches to decide his fate for him.

Some analysts think he will be a first-round draft pick and could be the first receiver drafted, but no one knows for sure.

``This is actually the time I wish I could step forward and make a decision,'' he said.

All the confusion surrounding Stallworth's decision on whether to leave Tennessee for the NFL hasn't hurt his chances in the draft. His workouts for scouts and team officials have been anything but tentative.

Stallworth, a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder from Sacramento, Calif., missed four games last season with a broken wrist but was a star when he played. Stallworth has potential, and that's what NFL teams like.

He impressed scouts last month in the 40-yard sprint. Some clocked him between 4.23 and 4.26 seconds, the fastest of any draft-eligible receiver so far.

``I think he's going to be an outstanding pro player,'' Atlanta Falcons scout Mike Hagen said. ``He's got all the intangibles that it takes to maximize your athletic talents.''

The Falcons have the 17th pick in the draft, but Hagen doubts Stallworth will still be available. The Kansas City Chiefs, who have the eighth pick, also saw Stallworth at the timing day at Tennessee.

``Stallworth did work out well in Tennessee,'' said Chuck Cook, the Chiefs' director of college scouting. ``He really ran well and his stock rose.''

He has visited with the New York Giants, New Orleans, Kansas City, Atlanta and has plans to meet with Dallas and Washington officials.

``I'm very pleased he's done as well as he's done,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. ``I understand his stock has soared after they got to studying his tapes and obviously the workout. When you get around him as a person, you're even more impressed.''

Three months ago, Stallworth's future wasn't clear _ not even to him.

He announced on Jan. 10 he was forgoing his senior year. But after the excitement of his announcement died down, he started to feel uncomfortable with his decision and changed his mind before the NFL's sign-up deadline the next day. The NFL office struck his name from the early entry draft list.

But Stallworth had already forfeited his NCAA eligibility with the first decision.

``It was horrible. That was probably the worst period in my life,'' he said. ``I guess it was down to the wire. It was kind of past the wire.''

Stallworth could have appealed the decision to an NCAA committee but he told Fulmer on Feb. 4 that he didn't want to pursue an appeal and would go ahead with his decision to enter the draft.

If the NCAA let Stallworth come back, he probably would have been suspended for some games.

``I knew that I would miss at least three or four games of my senior year. When I found that out that was kind of the end of the question,'' he said.

Stallworth's time at Tennessee seemed short. He even changed his mind at the last minute before turning in his national letter of intent to Tennessee out of high school.

Stallworth, a well-liked and cheerful personality, was always on the brink of a breakout season because of his talent and speed. Mainly because of injuries and inconsistency, Stallworth never had one.

He had 41 catches for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns even though he broke his left wrist in the season opener and missed the next four games. He scored three touchdowns in each game against Kentucky and Memphis and returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown against Vanderbilt.

``I think I've been getting better and better every year. I plan on continuing that next year,'' Stallworth said. ``As the days go on, I get more and more comfortable with getting ready to play in the NFL.''