DSU product Gunter ready to tackle NFL challenge

A lot of people were shocked when the Arizona Cardinals drafted Rodney Gunter in the fourth round last weekend.

But the Delaware State defensive end might have been the most stunned of all.

Gunter said the Cardinals called him shortly before they took him and told him to be ready.

“I hit my knees and started praying,” he said. “It was so unreal. I passed out for like three minutes.

“It’s so unreal right now,” Gunter told reporters in Arizona on Thursday. “It still feels unreal. I’m just trying to enjoy it while I’m here now.”
Indeed, Gunter’s story is pretty remarkable.

Delaware State's Rodney Gunter was an unheralded prospect from a small college who didn’t even get invited to the NFL Combine but ends up being a fourth-round draft pick. (Delaware State News file photo)

Delaware State’s Rodney Gunter was an unheralded prospect from a small college who didn’t even get invited to the NFL Combine but ends up being a fourth-round draft pick. (Delaware State News file photo)

He was an unheralded prospect from a small college who didn’t even get invited to the NFL Combine but ends up being a fourth-round draft pick.

That’s just part of it, though. Gunter also played just one season of high school football because he had to get an after-school job to help his mom makes ends meet.

The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder worked from 3:45-9 p.m. each day, working as a dishwasher and waiter at the Spring Haven Retirement Home near his hometown of Haines City, Fla. Gunter’s mother, Sondra Russell, was raising three sons by herself.

“It was killing me inside that I was not playing,” said Gunter.

“It was very tough,” he said about balancing school and a job. “I’m a hard-worker so I got through it. It was for my mom, too, I was supporting her. So I was just fighting through it. I tried to balance it all out.”

When Gunter left Florida for DelState — the Hornets were the only school to offer him a scholarship — Spring Haven sent him a care package with messages from the residents he worked with.

“Rodney never had an enemy in this world because he was so good to everyone,” Russell told FoxSports.com.

As for Gunter going in the fourth round when nobody seemed to think he was better than a late-round pick, the Cardinals stood by their decision. They actually traded up to get him.

Arizona general manager Steve Keim told reporters he had heard talk — that he later confirmed — that a couple other NFL teams were ready to draft Gunter if the Cards hadn’t taken him.

In a story reported on The Arizona Republic’s website, Keim said Arizona’s vice president of player personnel, Terry McDonough, was raving about Gunter after seeing him on tape. Keim said McDonough compared the youngster to a couple small-college defensive linemen who went on to play in the NFL — Leon Lett and Michael Strahan.

The Cardinals then sent defensive line coach Brentson Buckner to Florida to work out Gunter in person.

“(Buckner) said for about an hour he tried to break him and he said you couldn’t break this guy’s will,” Keim was quoted in The Arizona Republic story. “He said it was unbelievable.

“Terry and I called Chuck Smith, the pass-rush specialist who trains guys (in Atlanta) and he said of all the guys he’s trained in the past several years, this guy was as special as any of ‘em.”

Of course, just being drafted doesn’t guarantee Gunter of anything, other than an opportunity.

Whatever happens next is up to him. Gunter said hes got a lot of motivation — he’d like to buy his mom a house.

And the Cardinals are optimistic about his potential.

“A lot of fans are probably going to say, ‘Who is Rodney Gunter?’” said Keim. “I have a pretty strong conviction and Coach (Bruce Arians) has a pretty strong conviction that, in the next couple years, our fans are going to know real well who Rodney Gunter is.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to trust your eyes,” he added. “If you believe in what you see and you believe in the process and in your scouts and in your coaches and all the work’s put into it, you have no problem making a decision. Whether anybody’s heard of Rodney Gunter or not, I’m not concerned. I trust our people and I trust my own eyes. I trust Coach Arians’ eyes. We feel extremely good about the pick.”

Wesley gets new turf

The artificial turf at Wesley College’s Miller Stadium has seen more than its share of use since it was first installed in 2004.

Not only did the Wolverines have six teams playing and practicing on it, but there were plenty of high school state tournament games held there as well.

It showed.

Lately, the once-green synthetic surface had taken on a black tint from the rubber pellets that act as the dirt.

“Wesley got their money’s worth and then some,” said football coach/athletic director Mike Drass. “But it’s been a great field. It’s funny, no one had it before us. It was such a big thing back in 2004 when we first got it. For the first couple years, everyone wanted to get on it.

“And by the end, everyone already had turf. Everyone had a field that was better than it.”

So Drass is pretty excited that the stadium is in the midst of getting a brand-new surface. Not only will the turf (FieldTurf brand) actually be green again, but the two end zones are painted blue — one side with ‘Wesley’ and the other with ‘Wolverines.’

The project is expected to be completed in the next couple weeks.

“As a small private school, it’s hard to keep up facility-wise with state schools,” said Drass. “It’s a great move for the six sports that play on it. It’s going to be a tremendous recruiting boost.”

Odds & ends

•Former DelState football coach Kermit Blount has returned to his roots when he was hired as the football coach at Johnson C. Smith last month
Before spending the last four seasons in Dover, Blount coached his alma mater, Winston-Salem, for 17 years. Smith and Winston-Salem are members of the CIAA.

“I’m excited to be back in North Carolina and coaching again in the CIAA,” said Blount. “I know we have a lot of work to do but I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get it done. This is a place where we can make it work so now it’s just a matter of getting my staff together and working.”

•Kendall Gray, the former Polytech High basketball standout who went on to star at DSU, had his first NBA workout on Friday with the San Antonio Spurs. The NBA draft is on June 25.

•The Caesar Rodney High boys’ lacrosse team heads to Wilmington on Thursday night for a showdown with perennial state power Salesianum. The game is slated for 5:30 p.m. at Baynard Stadium.

The Sals, coached by Dover’s Bob Healy, beat the Riders by a combined 29-9 in two games last season.

•A handful of University of Delaware football players are getting NFL tryouts as undrafted free agents: defensive end Laith Wallschleger (Cardinals), receiver Michael Johnson (Eagles), cornerback Mario Rowson (Steelers) and tight end Andrew Opoku (Ravens).

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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