All about heart
They say he lacks size. Those same people also say they're concerned he lacks the strength to defend the run. What they fail to mention is that the cornerback who measured in at 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine has one intangible that seems to be overlooked in evaluating many draft prospects every spring … heart.
Rod Babers has made a career of proving people wrong. He never has been one to back down from a challenge and he tackles every obstacle that has come his way with the grit and determination of a warrior. It is what has made him a success, both on and off the field.
This weekend, Babers is sure to hear his named called during the NFL Draft, and when he does, the Houston native will be ready to take on his next challenge — continuing Texas' long-standing tradition of defensive backs at the next level.
It is a tradition that goes as far back as two-way star Noble Doss in 1942 and includes eight first-round NFL Draft picks: Raymond Clayborn (1977), Johnnie Johnson ('80), Derrick Hatchett ('80), Mossy Cade ('84), Jerry Gray ('85), Stanley Richard ('91), Bryant Westbrook ('98) and Quentin Jammer (2002).
Four former Longhorns went on to Pro Bowl careers. Tom Landry, the legendary head coach for the Dallas Cowboys, was a Pro Bowl selection as a member of the New York Giants in 1955 and Bill Bradley, who was a quarterback at Texas, converted to safety and was a three-time Pro Bowl choice from 1972-74 with the Philadelphia Eagles. Clayborn too was a three-time choice, earning trips to Hawaii in 1984, '86 and '87 as a member of the New England Patriots, while Gray was a four-time Pro Bowler from 1987-90 and was named the game's Most Valuable Player in his final appearance.
Recent success stories haven't been limited to draftees. Safeties Ahmad Brooks and Greg Brown both earned spots on NFL rosters after signing as undrafted free agents. Brooks saw action in six games with the Buffalo Bills as a rookie last season, while Brown was a member of Denver Broncos practice squad for the final four weeks of the 2001 season. He also played for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe last summer and helped lead the Fire to World Bowl X.
"Texas definitely has a great tradition of defensive backs," said Babers, who performed well at both the Combine and UT's annual Pro Timing Day. "One of the main reasons I came to UT was because of the success those players have had at the next level. Jerry Gray, Raymond Clayborn and Johnnie Johnson were as good as it got at DB in their day.
"Guys I've played with, like Quentin and Ahmad, are not only great players, but they're great guys too. I've learned a lot from them and made a point of getting in touch with both of them as I got ready for the combine and our pro day. I just hope I can continue the legacy that they built on last year."
Babers, a three-year starter at UT, had his finest season as a Longhorn last year. It was a season capped by third-team All-America and Thorpe Award semifinalist honors. He set career highs for tackles (46) and pass breakups (team-high 21/T-third on UT's single-season chart) and tied his career best with two interceptions, one of which he returned 73 yards for a touchdown against Oklahoma.
In each of his three seasons as a starter, Babers helped the Texas defense rank among the top 20 nationally in passing and total defense, including NCAA-leading marks of 236.6 yards per game in 2001 and an 88.3 pass efficiency rating in 2000. He finished his career in third place on the school's career pass breakups chart with 49.
As a youngster, his father told him he could accomplish anything he wanted to with a positive attitude. To this day, the man affectionately known as "Kool Aid" because of his never-ending smile continues to follow that mantra as he prepares for his next stop in life … the "real world" and National Football League.