INDIANAPOLIS: On a fall night in 2010, Johnny Adams entered the Buchtel football team’s locker room during halftime of a playoff game and delivered a speech that got Griffins coach Ricky Powers’ adrenaline flowing.
“He made a point of saying that there’s Buchtel High School, and then there’s everyone else,” Powers, a former Browns running back, said in a recent phone interview. “He put us pretty much on a pedestal. It was a don’t-ever-think-that-anyone-should-be playing-with-us type deal. He pretty much said God made Buchtel High School and then everybody else came. I almost put a helmet on and wanted to go out and play. Oh, my God. I got fired up. I had to walk out of the locker room. I haven’t been that fired up since I played in ’97.”
Buchtel defeated Parma Padua Franciscan 32-21 and a few weeks later advanced to the Division III state championship. So two years after Adams graduated from Buchtel and became a cornerback for Michigan State University, his leadership continued to help the Griffins.
“I was just trying to help the team out mentally,” Adams said Sunday. “And I think I did.”
Adams, an Akron native, takes pride in his own mental toughness, and he hopes it serves him well during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. He’s eager to prove himself as he interviews with several teams and endures a series of cognitive, medical and physical tests. Defensive backs are scheduled to work out Tuesday.
Some draft analysts projected Adams as a top-50 pick after his junior season at Michigan State, but he decided to return to school partly because he wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology. In December, Adams said he made his mother, Gwen Simpson, proud by becoming the first man from her side of the family to graduate from college.
“That’s what her goal was,” Adams said. “It wasn’t a set promise, but that’s what she wanted for me.”
Adams’ draft stock, though, seemingly took a hit after he struggled in coverage at times during his final collegiate season. NFLDraftScout.com projects him as a sixth- or seventh-round pick.
Still, Adams said he’s happy he stayed at Michigan State after thinking about leaving early.
“I made my decision,” Adams said. “I stuck with it, and I still love my decision. So I don’t regret it by any [means]. I’ve still got a nice little week to prove myself. I’m at the combine.”
Adams, 23, showed his relentless attitude when he played quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and safety in high school. As a senior, Adams had a remarkable individual performance against Steubenville marred by a crucial dropped pass, but he rebounded.
“He was going to score,” Powers said. “It was a done deal, and he just dropped the ball. All I could do was laugh because to me that’s a kid who went 110 percent, all out, held nothing back, and that happened to him. You know what he did? He came back to the sideline and he wasn’t upset. He just laughed and said, ‘Man, I’m going to get another opportunity.’ I was like, ‘What kid thinks like that?’”
Cornerbacks are in the spotlight and often hear criticism when they give up a big play. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Adams said his mindset helps him deal with the nature of the position.
“Every play is a different battle,” said Adams, who was also a track and basketball standout for Buchtel. “If you do good, move on. If you do bad, move on. As a corner, you’ve got to have a short memory. You can’t let stuff linger on you. Then you might give up the next play and the next play. It’s like an avalanche. That comes with the position. If I want to take my talents to the professional [level], I’ve got to be a professional about it.”
Powers has no doubt Adams will handle himself well in the NFL.
“He understands he’s going to win some, he’s going to lose some,” Powers said. “But the big thing is how are you going to bounce back? Are you going to find a way to win? Johnny is going to find a way to win. I hope teams understand that you’re getting a guy that never will quit.”
As of Sunday afternoon, Adams had yet to meet with any teams at the combine. Once he does, he’ll get a shot to convince them he’s tenacious.
If his message is as powerful as the one he delivered to the Griffins a few years ago, Adams should be able to grab the attention of NFL decision makers.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at https://ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.