Today, we catch up with wide receiver Mark Duper, drafted in the second round of the 1982 draft out of Northwest Louisiana State, and linebacker Twan Russell, selected in the fifth round (148th overall) of the 1997 draft out of the University of Miami by the Washington Redskins.
What stands out to you the most from your Draft Day experience?
Mark Duper: “My draft day was a big surprise. Really, to tell you the truth I had no idea that Coach Don Shula was going to draft me in the second round. I got a call from Charlie Winner and I was in my room sitting down with my fraternity brothers and we were playing dominoes and I got the call that I was drafted in the second round. I had no idea what I was doing because I didn’t play football (until his junior year of college as a walk-on). They called me after the fact and that was it.”
Twan Russell: “I’ve got the funniest story in America on draft day. I’m sitting in my mom’s living room and I was super nervous. I didn’t really expect to go the first day but my agent told me I’d be somewhere between the third and the sixth round, so I was optimistic and I’m sitting watching the draft and enjoying it. The first round goes, the second round goes and we’re watching the third round and all of a sudden out of nowhere I get a phone call from the Detroit Lions. And they go, ‘Hey, we’re on the clock, we’re seriously thinking about taking you. Are you ready? You want to be a Detroit Lion?’ And I say, ‘Absolutely.’ I’m getting excited, I’m jumping up and down and my mom’s excited so they say, ‘All right, so stay tuned. We’ll be calling you back in a second.’ So we’re watching the television and we’re watching the third round and I see the Detroit Lions come up so I’m thinking here we go. All of a sudden, ‘Matt Russell taken by the Detroit Lions.’ I lost it. I’m sitting here sick to my stomach and I’m mad and I’m frustrated and my mom was like, ‘It’ll be all right baby.’ Half the people in the room didn’t even know what was going on because we didn’t want to make a bug deal out of it. So that was the first day so I had to sleep overnight on that on that one. The next day I was drafted in the fifth round by the Redskins, which was cool because Denard Lang, who was at the University of Miami with me and a good friend of mine, he was drafted there in the first round so we were able to go there together and I was super excited. I think the second time was better than the first because I was just relieved at that point. So that was probably what stood out on Draft Day. It was funny.”
What did you personally do in preparation for the draft to help your draft position as far as special workouts, etc.?
Duper: “I did one camp and I’ll never forget that. That was in the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit (the BLESTO scouting camp) and I’ll never forget that picture of Billy Sims where he was cutting and he was so low to the ground. The only person that I really touched base with and I really, really liked and that made me do a whole bunch of stuff was Coach Shula. He was that person and I did everything. I didn’t know he was thinking about drafting me in the second round there.”
Russell: “I trained with the track coach at the University of Miami and I ran track in college so for me running came naturally. But I was injured my senior season, got hurt on the last play of our bowl game and it was just a fluke deal so I was rehabbing most of the time. I did train a little bit for running and lifting but not what these guys are doing. I just kind of showed up and did my thing.”
Was there something about your interviews with prospective coaches before the draft that stood out?
Duper: “What Coach Shula told me in Detroit was, I ran the 40 and he said, ‘Run it again,’ so I ran it again and then he told me to run it again so I ran it again and the time didn’t change. So he said, ‘I want you to catch the ball over your shoulder.’ So I was outrunning all the quarterbacks throwing the football and so he said, ‘I wanted to see you catch it over the shoulder,’ and I’d just reach back and catch the ball and then take off. He said, ‘No, I want to see you catch it over the shoulder,’ so I had to slow down and I leaned way back and I caught the ball over my shoulder and that’s when he drafted me.”
Russell: “Believe it or not, I didn’t have a lot of interviews. In fact, when I went to the Combine I was injured so I took probably more tests than anybody else because I hurt my knee the last game of the year in our bowl game, in the Carquest Bowl. When I went to the Combine I remember being up late as they were checking my knee and tugging my knee. I did interviews but back then we used to take these long tests. I remember the Giants gave me a test with like 400 questions on it. I was so tired and that was the first thing I did when I got there. You took this long psychological test with stupid questions like, ‘You’re in a room and someone’s robbing your wife and he has a gun. What do you do?’ The first answer was like do you run, the second one was do you try to get the gun? What do you learn? I guess he’s going to say I’m a coward. I’m exaggerating the question but it was crazy. I interviewed with five teams but there were no crazy questions. They put me on the board and asked me to draw plays and where does the tackle go on this play, so they just wanted to know what my football IQ was and what kind of person I was and what I knew.”
Where were you on Draft Day?
Russell: “We were in my mom’s living room with the big tube television back then, one of the big floor models, sitting on the couch. I knew I was going to be late round guy, second day, so we watched the first day just to make sure, but I went the second day. It was cool and it’s one of those things when you’re name is called you’re thinking I’ve been doing this since I was 5 years old and now I’m 22 years old and I’m going to be able to live my dream and have an opportunity to do something great. So it was cool for me.”
How did you celebrate being drafted?
Russell: “My mom made a lot of food and I was trying to gain weight so I ate it all. I didn’t really celebrate because for me I didn’t feel like anything special because I was a fifth-round pick and I knew the Redskins brought in four linebackers. I knew I had to get up there and work so for me it wasn’t about celebrating. It was about preparing myself for training camp, so when I got up there I wanted to make sure I was going to be the best linebacker I could be.”
What was it like to know you were going to be coached by Don Shula?
Duper: “To tell you the truth I had no idea what football was all about. I really didn’t. I’m serious. I had signed with the Philadelphia Pioneers to run track and do promotions, but I had heard about the 1972 team and all of that. Once I got to Miami it’s like a spark hit me. That first year I stayed on the bench the whole year and he gave me that chance to stay on the bench and I thought to myself, ‘You know what, this guy is taking a chance. He gave me a whole year, a free job. I’ve got to show him what I can do.’ And that’s when I took over, my second year.”
What advice would you give to this year’s class of draft choices?
Duper: “You take it with pride and dignity and also understand that the people who are drafting you are putting faith in you and wanting to feel that you can help the team. Don’t go in there with a negative thought of getting cut. Go in there with a positive thought of getting drafted and making plays and getting the job done.”
Russell: “I would give them two pieces of advice. Number one, don’t spend your money before you get it. That’s number one. If I could tell every guy from a financial standpoint, put it in the bank and just get used to having it. Don’t do anything. Literally stick it in the bank and don’t do anything with it. Just get used to having it. And the other thing is, come in ready to play football. Be physically prepared, mentally prepared, ask questions and be open-minded. Don’t be a punk. You want to be the guy that’s willing to do anything. Pay attention to what the veterans are doing. Get in line and play football. Don’t come in like you’re somebody already. You still have to earn that position. The guys that come in and earn a position are the guys that play 10 or 15 years. The guys that come in and feel like they’re entitled or they’re special, those are the guys that end up doing something stupid and they never get off the ground because they mistake off the field.”