<
>

How Cyril Grayson landed an NFL deal without ever playing college football

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Cyril Grayson didn't travel to Seattle expecting to sign his first NFL contract. Maybe that seemed too easy, and nothing to that point had come easy for him as he pursued a football career after being an All-American track sprinter at LSU.

Grayson was so unprepared for the contract that landed in front of him April 7, just two days after he surprised pro scouts with a dynamic showing at LSU's pro day, that he didn't even have an agent lined up to help him review the deal.

When the Seahawks let him know their intentions, he called home to his father, Cyril Sr., and together they scrambled to find representation, eventually settling on North Carolina-based Donald Jelani Roy.

"He called around and did a lot of stuff, and he kind of looked at the roster and looked at different situations that I would have been in, and Seattle was the best spot," Grayson said. "So I called my parents up, and I let them know what was going on."

Shortly thereafter, Grayson -- who has not played a down of football since 2011, his senior year at Archbishop Rummel High School near New Orleans -- was an NFL wide receiver with a newly signed three-year rookie contract.

It was the culmination of a 72-hour whirlwind that will surely make for one of the more unlikely stories you'll hear this draft season.

It started back at Rummel, where Grayson was a standout football player who really excelled on the track as a nationally ranked runner in the 400. Naturally, that's where he drew the most attention from college scouts.

Grayson signed a track scholarship with LSU, expecting to eventually contribute for the Tigers' football team as well. But NCAA rules do not permit an athlete on scholarship for a minor sport such as track to also play a major sport such as football or basketball.

"Let me tell you why it exists: Bear Bryant used to have all of these kids who were on track scholarships, but they were on the football team," LSU track coach Dennis Shaver said, referring to the legendary Alabama football coach. "As a result of that kind of abuse that took place, a guy like Cyril, who's a genuinely great kid, who really just wanted to try to make that football team, he really wasn't able to even take a shot at it because he would have been in limbo on his scholarship."

NCAA rules thwarted Grayson's second attempt at joining the football team as well. After completing his track career, Grayson began working out with LSU football players before the 2016 season but learned he could only play for the team as one of its 85 scholarship recipients. The football team had no scholarships available, once again denying Grayson the football opportunity he coveted.

"That's the big story on why I never touched the field at LSU," he said.

Grayson refused to accept defeat. While working to complete his kinesiology degree, he found ways to continue his football workouts in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, even when struggling to find transportation thanks to a broken-down car.

"I was kind of between Baton Rouge and New Orleans," Grayson said. "I still have my apartment [in Baton Rouge], and I live there a couple days a week, and I drive back and forth, and I'm Ubering to places because my car is broken, and I'm asking for rides to get to places so that I can practice, just so that I can get it any way that I can."

After a CFL tryout in January didn't pan out, Grayson essentially went door to door in LSU's football offices until he received permission to participate at the Tigers' April 5 pro day.

It was this unknown player's presence on the participant list that first caught Seahawks scout Ed Dodds' attention. Dodds researched Grayson's background and invited him to a dinner with a small group of LSU players the night before the pro-day workout.

"He was saying how he wanted to get first in line and just ahead of the crew because, 'I don't know what you're going to do tomorrow, but just in case you do do something, I want to be the first one you talk to,'" Grayson said.

That ended up being a smart move, because Grayson turned scouts' heads with his performance the next morning.

Representatives from every NFL team were in attendance at LSU's pro day to see potential first-rounders such as Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams and Tre'Davious White. Grayson was the only non-football player there, but he held his own.

Adams probably secured a spot early in the first round of the draft when he completed the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. Grayson was slightly disappointed when he posted the same time, saying some scouts said they had him at 4.27.

"I was disappointed in myself," Grayson told reporters afterward. "I wanted to go faster."

Shaver was nevertheless impressed by the performance.

"He was really a 400-meter runner here, not a sprinter," Shaver said. "For him to be able to run those kinds of 40-yard times compared to other football players, when really he never trained to run 40 yards here ... I was not shocked, but I was pleasantly surprised."

Grayson stood out in other events, posting the day's best broad jump (10 feet, 7 inches), best 60-yard shuttle time (11.69 seconds) and the second-best vertical jump (34½ inches). Even if his 14 reps lifting 225 pounds on the bench press did not rank among the day's leaders, Grayson was excited to complete so many, considering he measured in at just 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds.

"I guess nobody really expected a track guy, and me being so small, to hit it that many times," Grayson said.

Then he ran routes with the other receivers, catching passes from former LSU and NFL quarterback Matt Flynn.

"I didn't drop a ball," Grayson said.

Dodds had seen all he needed to see. He approached Grayson before the pro day ended and told him not to make any plans for the next day, because the Seahawks wanted to fly him in for a visit.

Shortly thereafter, Grayson was talking with his roommate at LSU's football facility when his flight itinerary arrived via email.

"I'm just like, 'Man, is this really happening?' I went in with no expectations of really getting the type of attention that I did," Grayson said the next day while waiting in Houston for a connecting flight between New Orleans and Seattle. "I knew that I performed well, but I didn't know just off the strength of them seeing [pro day] would open up their eyes. I knew I'd open up the eyes of some agent or someone who would do some footwork for me, but just off the strength of the workout, guys are calling my phone, and I'm ready to throw my phone out the window it's ringing so much."

Seattle was apparently well aware that other clubs would be interested, because the Seahawks acted quickly. After giving Grayson a tour of their football facility and completing a battery of X-rays and MRIs to be sure his body was in good shape, the Seahawks offered him a piece of shocking news.

"I was back at the hotel when they told me, 'Don't be surprised when you get back if you have an offer on the table, so call whoever you need to call.'"

Say what? That was the last thing Grayson expected. Not only did Grayson not have an agent yet, he was also gun-shy about signing so quickly because of what happened in college, when he unknowingly signed a track scholarship that would prevent him from playing football.

But once Roy looked into the situation and gave the go-ahead, Grayson called his family and put them on speakerphone as the first step in his unlikely dream came true. He signed a contract with a professional football team.

"We kind of talked, they're screaming, and then I go ahead and sign the papers," Grayson said. "Then I had them take a picture of me, and I sent it on to my family so that they can see what it kind of looked like, besides being there in spirit and over the phone."

Grayson returned home to New Orleans for about 10 days before packing a bag and flying back to Seattle on Monday. He'll spend the next three weeks there working out at the Seahawks' facility, while also completing his internship work online so that he can return to LSU on May 12 for graduation.

Then it's straight back to Seattle to participate in rookie minicamp.

As a raw rookie who hasn't played the sport in six years, does Grayson have a legitimate chance to make the Seahawks' 53-man roster? That remains to be seen, but Grayson is adamant that he not be pigeonholed as someone whose only useful attribute is his speed. He thinks he can be more than just a productive kick returner.

"I envision myself as a premier receiver, even in a supporting receiving role," he said. "With my work ethic and just knowing who I am, I'll never settle for just special teams. But whatever they put me at, I'm going to accept it. It's just a wish and a dream right now, though."

Regardless of what happens next, Grayson's pursuit of football is already farther along than most could have reasonably expected. Thanks to that three-day stretch earlier this month, Grayson's dream is much closer to becoming a reality.