From volleyball to the NFL: Sutton takes a long road to Dolphins
DAVIE, Fla. -- David Sutton leaped and made a spectacular catch along the sideline, then landed awkwardly and briefly rolled about in obvious pain.
A few minutes later, he was back in action, trying to make another eye-catching play.
Something as insignificant as a minor injury -- "I hurt my butt cheek," Sutton later explained -- wasn't going to derail this rookie wide receiver from continuing his pursuit of an improbable quest to find a spot on the Miami Dolphins' roster. A volleyball player in his youth who never played football before college had enough athletic ability to earn the team's attention, yet whether that can translate into playing in the NFL is still a big question.
"There's something there," Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said. "We're just not sure what it is yet."
Sutton can only hope that gets figured out over the next couple weeks.
He only started playing football four years ago, yet here he is, with a corner locker and hopes to showcase his talent in the first preseason game next weekend.
"So did I think I'd be here? Not at all. And is it overwhelming? Yes, it really is," Sutton said Thursday.
Sutton's first calling, he thought, was volleyball. He has a 39-inch vertical leap that would make many NBA players envious. A high school star in his native California, the sleek, 6-foot-6, 222-pound Sutton had numerous offers to play volleyball at the Division I college level before deciding that the game didn't merit a place in his long-term plans.
"I was going to try to go to the Olympics to play on that little team," Sutton said. "But the world of volleyball is a whole different world. People don't know there's a lot of racism and I just got tired of hearing all that."
Simply put, being among the few black players on most high school volleyball floors wore him down. Hearing racial taunts became nearly an everyday occurrence, and he wound up at Lincoln University in Missouri, a historically black Division II school with no volleyball team.
There, he found football, which didn't fit his volleyball-and-track schedule as a high schooler. His track coach, who had Sutton soaring nearly 7 feet in the high jump as a senior, told him shortly before dying that he thought football was where he could truly excel.
"His last request was for me to play football," Sutton said.
Right away, he showed promise, setting a school record with an 89-yard catch as a freshman and scoring six touchdowns. But Lincoln wasn't for him, so he briefly enrolled at the University of Missouri.
"Too cold," Sutton said.
The California boy headed home the next year to Compton Community College and hauled in five more scoring passes, then moved on to Texas-El Paso -- where he managed only six catches for 30 yards in two seasons.
Still, the Dolphins took notice and signed him as an undrafted free agent three months ago.
"David hasn't played a lot of football," Cameron said. "He's been a premier volleyball player, and played a little bit at UTEP, but he's improved tremendously. He gets that big body running pretty fast. He's a guy that, it's just going to take some time."
That time, as Sutton points out, is running out.
So he bounced up after his bad landing in practice. He hobbled down the sideline, followed by a trainer, then headed back to the huddle.
"It hurts. It really does," Sutton said. "But there's only one way I'm going to make this team, and it's not by sitting on the bench or not practicing or not practicing full-go every minute. It shows I've got the heart, that I want to do this. Today I'm in pain, but I've got to keep going. Time is flying."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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