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The Sky's the Limit
Ivan Maisel
April 20, 1998
Five years after walking on at Florida State Andre Wadsworth has become the most coveted defensive player in the NFL draft
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April 20, 1998

The Sky's The Limit

Five years after walking on at Florida State Andre Wadsworth has become the most coveted defensive player in the NFL draft

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The handwriting on the letter that arrived at his mother's home in Miami last Christmas Eve looked familiar, as well it should have. Five years earlier, as a high school senior taking advanced placement English at Florida Christian in Miami, Andre Wadsworth had been required to write a letter to himself, addressing his goals. Now the man he had become was about to get reacquainted with the boy he once was. His letter, which his English teacher had held on to and then mailed as promised, ran three pages, and one of his predictions was that he would be studying for an MBA in finance by now. (In fact, he is three classes short of a master's in sports administration.) The letter included just one sentence about football. The school's final game of the '92 season was a few days away, and Wadsworth, a defensive end who had received only one recruiting letter, believed his athletic career was over. "This is the last time I ever suit up for sports," he wrote.

How could anyone have known that Wadsworth, then 6'2" and 217 pounds, would grow two inches and gain 65 pounds over the next four years. Who could have foreseen that he would begin his college career as that lowest form of varsity life, a walk-on, and leave Florida State as the most coveted defensive lineman in the April 18-19 NFL draft? Barring a trade, the Arizona Cardinals are expected to take the Seminoles' All-America with the No. 3 pick. Wadsworth's talent is so well established now that the roughly 100 NFL coaches and scouts on hand for a March 17 workout at Florida State merely shrugged when he pulled his left quadriceps running the 40. "I think we all know what kind of football player he is," Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

In an NFL that continually creates new levels of specialization, Wadsworth is coveted for his versatility. As a 6'4" junior he played at 282 pounds and started at nose-guard between All-America ends Peter Boulware and Reinard Wilson. As a senior Wadsworth dropped 15 pounds, shifted to left end, and combined speed and power to finish the season with only three fewer sacks than the school-record 19 Boulware had in '96. Phil Savage, the director of college scouting for the Baltimore Ravens, says Wadsworth could thrive in a 3-4 defense or a 4-3, left side or right. "He's quick and fast enough to play on the right as a rush guy, but he's strong enough to play on the left," Savage says. "He's probably, most people would say, the best defensive player in the draft," says Atlanta defensive coordinator Rich Brooks. The Steelers' college personnel director, Tom Modrak, ticked off the reasons why: "He's like a missile when he comes off the ball. He can keep his pads low and still run full speed. He's flexible, and he's around 280 pounds."

We've all heard the stories of unrecruited athletes who were fueled by the snubs of coaches and competitors. This is not one of those stories. Wadsworth had no interest in the only school that recruited him, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and he isn't angry that other schools didn't pursue him. He jumped at the opportunity to walk on at Florida State, but he never imagined he would become an All-America. As a redshirt freshman, Wadsworth was asked to fill out a sheet of goals for strength coach Dave Van Halanger. Wadsworth wrote that he hoped to bench-press 385 pounds by his final season. (He benches 500.) He wanted to squat 450 pounds. (He squats nearly 700.) "And I wanted to start my senior year at defensive end" Wadsworth says laughing. "That was the only one [that was on the mark]."

While Wadsworth developed into a collegiate superstar, he never developed the superstar's ego. Leave it to the Charles Woodsons of the world to demand first-class airline tickets before agreeing to attend an awards banquet. "As soon as you get to [an NFL] training camp, all that ranked-high stuff goes out the window," Wadsworth says. "You've got to show it. They say I'm the best defensive end in several years. Next year there will be another guy who they say is the best."

Last year that player was Boulware, who gave up his final year of college eligibility, was drafted by Baltimore with the No. 4 pick, shifted to linebacker and became the NFL defensive rookie of the year. He and Wadsworth are as close as brothers. "I can say, for me and Andre, that if you look at us from the beginning of our time at Florida State to now, you can tell we were blessed." Boulware says.

In January, Boulware returned to Tallahassee and reclaimed his room in the house that he and Wadsworth have shared for two years. They work out together at Florida State, and both speak regularly to church groups. At least half of the Seminoles coaches are devout Christians, including Bobby Bowden, defensive ends coach Jim Gladden and Van Halanger. When they talk about how good Wadsworth is, they don't always mean on the football field. In fact, they sound like a bunch of yentas trying to arrange a marriage. In February, Bowden and Van Halanger, without prompting, expressed their belief that Wadsworth is a virgin. "I don't think Andre has been with a woman," Bowden said.

Wadsworth says he is not a virgin, but in five years at Florida State he says he never had a date. Of his time in high school, he says, "I was into the world of premarital sex. You grow up. You mature. Then you do things because you know it's right. You don't care that people say you're square. If you're going to be a good example, how far are you willing to go? Is kissing a sin? Is fondling a sin? Or do you stay away from [girls] and go out and have a good time?"

Wadsworth and Boulware wear matching cloth bracelets bearing the letters WWJD—What would Jesus do? If the answer to that question isn't enough to stop temptation, they rely on each other. "Don't get caught in a buzz saw," Boulware says. "College is college. There are a lot of fine girls around here."

"In the pros, it's harder [to resist temptation]," Wadsworth speculates. "The girls are finer."

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