Ireland, Little And Nathan Share Their Draft Memories

Posted Apr 16, 2013

Three former Dolphins look back on their draft preparation and memories of the day they officially joined the NFL.

With the 2013 NFL Draft just a nine days away, is reminiscing with some of your favorite former Miami Dolphins about their draft day experiences.

Today we catch up with general manager Jeff Ireland, undrafted out of Baylor, guard Larry Little, undrafted out of Bethune-Cookman, and running back Tony Nathan, selected in the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft out of Alabama.  

What stands out to you the most from your Draft Day experience?

Jeff Ireland: “I was a placekicker so I didn’t have much thoughts that I was going to be drafted. I was hoping that I might get drafted late in the draft so the first day of the draft I went and played golf with a couple of buddies. It was not a whole lot of hurry up and wait, the pressure wasn’t on me because again I was a placekicker. So I went and played golf, had a good time and then waited for the phone to ring after the draft.”

Larry Little: “I remember being in the dormitory at Bethune-Cookman when I was in college I wouldn’t let anybody near the phone in the hallway because I was waiting on that phone call that never came. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep and then I remember the guy from the Baltimore Colts contacted me to see if I would like to sign with the Baltimore Colts as a free agent. And I asked him what kind of bonus was I getting and he said, ‘Well, we don’t give bonuses to free agents.’ Then the San Diego Chargers called me and they wanted to give me a $750 bonus so I jumped at that $750 bonus. So I had a lot of anxiety beforehand hoping I’d get drafted but I wasn’t. The Rams said I would go in the first 10 rounds and Houston called me and said I’d go in round 10 or 11 but they never called. I’ll never forget that scout from the Rams who called me. I saw him a number of years later and thought to myself, ‘Boy, did he blow that one.’

Tony Nathan: “The one thing that really stands out is the fact that they told me I was going to get drafted in the first and I ended up going in the third. That’s the one thing that really stood out in my mind.”

What did you personally do in preparation for the draft to help your draft position as far as special workouts, etc.?

Ireland: “I was still in school trying to finish up my degree and I actually hurt my groin my senior year so I was there rehabbing and making sure I was going to be healthy. But the main thing I was still in school and I did not go to the Combine.”

Little: “We didn’t even have a weight room at Bethune-Cookman so I didn’t even lift weights at the time. I just worked out on my own.”

Nathan: “Those camps weren’t available when I was coming through so you did what you could as far as just working out on your own and working with the trainers that were there and the strength coaches that were there at the school. That’s basically all we did. We didn’t have any place where you could go and do the camp thing and work with speed coaches and all of that. We just did what he had to do.”

Was there something about your interviews with prospective coaches before the draft that stood out?

Ireland: “I remember the Detroit Lions, the Houston Oilers, a couple of teams, I think the Minnesota Vikings came to our campus so about three or four teams. We had a pretty good team that year and we had some good seniors so I benefited from those scouts coming in to look at those players and said, ‘Look at Jeff. See what he can do.’ I played at the Senior Bowl so there were a lot of interviews going through that process, all of the psychological tests and all of that stuff. There’s no telling what they’re bringing up these days but sometimes I think those are more get-to-know-you type questions. That’s the way I start off with my line of questioning when I’m questioning players. I want to get to know them. I want to know their background. I want to know how they grew up and what part of their youth built character and who they are now. Sometimes you learn a lot by how they were raised and who raised them, so those are the lines of questioning I go through and it’s very important for me to know that about a kid.”

Little: “There was no Combine back then and I never even interviewed with any teams because they didn’t do that back then.”

Nathan: “I didn’t go to the Combine because I had a hip pointer at the bowl game. At that time they brought you in and worked you out at their facilities but they don’t do that anymore. I think now you have to do the workouts at your school, so it was a whole different world when I came out. Nothing from the interviews really stood out.”

Where were you on Draft Day?

Ireland: “I was still at Baylor in Waco, Texas with my roommate and my holder, a guy by the name of Kent Brentham, and we went and played golf on the first day. On the second day I think I kind of watched a little bit and then I don’t think it was televised all the way through. I can’t remember but I wasn’t glued to the television like some kids were. I know I was busy and I knew when it was going end. Of course my grandfather (Jim Parmer) was still involved with the Chicago Bears drafts of those years so I knew I could call him and ask him what’s going on.”

Nathan: “I was in my apartment down at school in Tuscaloosa (Alabama). The two guys that I used to hang around, Marty Lyons and Barry Krauss, they got drafted in the first round. They left on the first day so they were calling me and messing with me all day long the first day. I ended up going the second day and I was like, ‘You knuckleheads. You dogs.’”

How did you celebrate being drafted?

Nathan: “I was just happy as could be when they called my name and I saw my name. They called me, Chuck Connor, and said the Miami Dolphins drafted me and I was like, ‘Thank you.’ At least I didn’t have to wait all the way until the last pick. But I didn’t go out because I still didn’t have any money so we just hung out.”

What was it like to know you were going to be coached by Don Shula?

Little: “I was with the Chargers first and I came to Miami the year before Coach Shula. I played for George Wilson my first year in Miami and Shula came the next year in 1970. I knew his reputation at Baltimore and when he came to Miami I went to his press conference. I went and introduced myself to him and told him who I was and he looked at me and the first thing he asked me was how much do I weigh. I told him 285 and he said, ‘You better lose some of that.’ And that was the only thing he said to me until we had a mini-camp and I think he was impressed with what he saw at that time but he had me lose 20 pounds down to 265. I’d be too small to play in the league now.”

Nathan: “Once I found it was him it was like, ‘This is going to be interesting, going from Coach (Bear) Bryant and then you go to Don Shula.’ Two legends and you knew that they were going to work the hell out of you. I was used to that anyway because when you come form Alabama you work. And you also had to think about how they had an undefeated season and how can you top that? You can’t. We did play in two Super Bowls but we didn’t win. We still went and represented.”

What advice would you give to this year’s class of draft choices?

Ireland: “Just let it come to you. Don’t have a favorite because you’ll be disappointed. Be excited with whoever takes you because that team has put a lot of trust in you and that should be a reciprocation from your part as a player to the team. And as they get into it on that team, we as evaluators are instant evaluators and as soon as we see something we believe it. So you need to show us what you are really fast and the good thing and the bad thing is that works in a positive and a negative way. That’s the message I give our draft choices when I welcome them here. I say it’s a show me game, I’m an instant evaluator and the good thing is when you show something that’s very positive I want to see it over and over and over again because I believe you can do it. If I see something negative then I believe that, too, so don’t show me that too many times or I’m going to start really believing it.”

Little: “There are a lot of guys that make teams as free agents so if you’re not drafted there’s still hope out there for you and just keep working hard and believe that you can play this game. That’s what I did. When I went to San Diego I took everything I owned because I didn’t plan to come back to home. I felt that I was good enough to make the football team if I got the opportunity. If you get that opportunity make the best of it.”
Game Pass: Miami Dolphins