By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Al Netter now has received a taste of it, of football without distractions, of football with a zealot’s focus, of football that feels like breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is consumed so often and so much. The difference on what he did before and what he wants to do now is obvious; Netter can sum up the contrast in one simple sentence.
“I don’t have to worry about homework,” the Cardinal Newman graduate said.
Considering the schedule he has kept the last four months, Netter didn’t have to worry about a lot of things, like what time of day it is, or even what day it is, or what’s happening in the world. His world has been reduced to a plot of air and earth that encircles him from around 50 feet, one that includes heavy weights, sprints, lunges, fist-thrusts and all manner of exercise machines.
“This has to be a little bit what the NFL feels like,” Netter said.
Santa Rosa’s Netter has been preparing for the NFL draft, and the offensive tackle from Northwestern is waiting to be drafted. Where he will be picked, like everyone not named Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, is open for discussion. Six or seven NFL teams, Netter said, “are extremely interested.” Another 12 teams, he said, have called on a regular basis, their intent, however, a little less certain to gauge.
With his selection open to interpretation — his agent J.R. Rickert said Netter would most likely go between the fourth and seventh rounds today — Netter has taken the John Wooden approach to his future.
You can’t control others but you can control yourself.
And that process began in January, a process that must now be considered pro forma for anyone wanting to appear attractive and ready for pro football. NFL teams like their players obsessed with the game, and on that note Netter qualifies.
In January, Netter, 6-foot-5, 321 pounds, flew to Naples, Fla., to begin a two-month labor intensive. An invitation-only camp that numbered 12 players at a place called Velocity Sports, Netter trained six days a week for the NFL Combine and his Pro Day at Northwestern. Think of an NFL boot camp.
Monday and Tuesday would be hard training, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday would be a recovery day, the workout ending at noon. Thursday and Friday would be another 13-hour workout with a half-day on Saturday. Sunday would be an off-day, the desire for self-preservation kicking in.
“It was a full-time job,” said Netter, who made 52 consecutive starts at Northwestern. “Your day is completely planned and you are taken care of in every way.”
That preparation resulted in these Combine numbers for Netter: a 5.13 time in the 40, 24 repetitions with 225 pounds and a 27-inch vertical jump.
One of Northwestern’s captains in 2011, Netter returned to Evanston, Ill., to work out daily with two players: Corey Wootton and Jack DiNardo. DiNardo is a 6-foot-3, 300-pound Northwestern defensive tackle looking to enter the draft. Wootton is a former Northwestern player who had just finished his third year with the Chicago Bears as a 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end. Wootton would school Netter on technique especially, as well as the mentality of playing football for a living.
All of which, ironically enough, is entirely the opposite of Netter’s childhood dreams. He wanted to be Barry Sanders, the Hall of Fame running back from Detroit who was as elusive as a butterfly in the open field.
“I was always the small kid that everybody tackled,” said Netter, an Outland Trophy candidate for best offensive lineman.
Then he grew and grew, and the Barry Sanders dream disappeared into the mist, replaced by another one.
“I don’t know if I should say it,” Netter said, thinking that he might be discouraging a possible NFL team. He was assured his dreams as a 10-year-old wouldn’t get in the way of his pro football career.
“I dreamed of playing for the 49ers,” Netter said. “I had a Joe Montana jersey hanging in my room. My grandmother had season tickets for years.”
Netter, of course, is not dictating terms or intentions. He wants to play on Sunday and, from his perspective, he said he is in better shape now than at any other time in his life. Netter wants the draft to be over, for the anticipation to end, so he can find out who he is playing for. Rickert has been honest with Netter, mentioning that he may slip all the way to undrafted free agent. But Netter expects to be with someone by the time NFL training camps open.
That said, Netter is trying to take a chill pill about the draft. Along with his parents, Netter flew down Friday to San Diego to stay at his brother’s house. Just a small gathering. Netter doesn’t want to make it a grand affair only to experience not being picked today. If he has to slip under the radar, he’ll slip under the radar.
“There’s always room in the NFL,” I said, “for players who are coachable, driven and talented.”
Netter didn’t pause to respond.
“That’s what we are selling,” he said.
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.