GREEN BAY - If the Green Bay Packers held a race to determine their fastest player, bets would spread between Sam Shields, Jeff Janis and rookie Trevor Davis. Shields, the team’s No. 1 cornerback, likely would emerge as the odds-on favorite after he ran a sizzling time of 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash coming out of Miami.
It’s quite possible, however, that Shields might see another man slightly ahead of him at the imaginary finish line. And chances are both Shields and everyone else would never see him coming: Harvey Binford, wide receiver, signed by the Packers on July 28 after one season in the Arena Football League.
Flash back to the fall of 2010, just a few months after Shields’ stunning time at his pro day in Miami. Halfway across the country, a theater and dance major took part in an intramural competition at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. To that point in his life, young Harvey Binford had never played football. The whole of his athletic experience boiled down to one year of high school track.
Yet on his second of two attempts in the 40-yard dash, Binford, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 185 pounds, blazed across the line in 4.22 seconds. That’s not a misprint. Had he participated in the NFL scouting combine, where prospects sprint on turf rather than grass, Binford’s time would have been the fastest ever recorded, nipping Arizona Cardinals’ running back Chris Johnson, who in 2008 set the modern record of 4.24 seconds.
(For what it’s worth, Binford’s first attempt of the day was clocked in the low 4.3s.)
“At the time I really didn’t know much about 40s or football and all of that because I was a dance major,” Binford said. “I was a theater and dance major before I played football. But everyone around me was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so fast.’ As soon as they saw the time that I ran, they were like, ‘You need to go somewhere and play football.’
“I didn’t start playing football until my junior year in college.”
Instead of sports, Binford grew up in the arts. A native of St. Louis, Binford attended a performing arts high school and, after initial hesitations, fell in love with dance. Later, when he enrolled in college, Binford decided to make it his major.
“I did everything: jazz, tap, ballet, hip-hop, modern, classical — all of that,” Binford said. “I ended up becoming, I guess you could say, professional because I started to get paid for it. I did The Nutcracker with the Belleville School of Ballet (in Illinois) for four years. I was the actual Nutcracker.”
With the encouragement of friends and family, Binford transferred to Lindenwood University-Belleville and joined a football team in its infancy at the NAIA level. He scored the program’s first touchdown on a 28-yard reception in a win over Avila University in September of 2012.
His college career led to a tryout for the Arena Football League, and Binford signed on as a member of the Philadelphia Soul. He caught 24 passes for 412 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He still didn’t have an agent.
But for those who are skeptical of Binford’s 40-yard dash time — and why wouldn’t you be, it’s insane — there is written documentation on the Missouri-St. Louis website. A reporter stumbled across the information during a Google search last week, and a story was born.
The intrigue surrounding Binford spread from the interwebs to the Packers, who called Binford at 7 a.m. on July 28 and asked him to fly to Green Bay for a workout that afternoon. Stunned, excited and caught partially off guard, Binford arrived at the facility last week for his first professional workout. He promptly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and signed a contract that same day.
“It didn’t seem real until I guess you could say I woke up the next morning,” Binford said. “I had told my mom, my girlfriend, my mom told everyone in my family. Then it was just posted all over social media. The college that I went to did a story on it. The Belleville News-Democrat did a story on it. I was like wow, this is real. This is like a dream come true.”
The defensive coaches for the Packers, perhaps unaware of Binford’s speed, caught their first glimpse during practice one day last week when he darted across the field on a crossing pattern. Binford made an impressive catch along the sideline but failed to get both feet in bounds. Still, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. was impressed and immediately asked Binford about his 40 time.
In the locker room later that day, fellow receiver Jamel Johnson twisted his face in disbelief when a reporter shared the story of the 4.22.
“The coaches said he was fast,” Johnson said. “That’s beyond blazing.”
The fact remains, however, that Binford is the 89th player on a 90-man roster. He was thrust into a receiving corps logjam, so his reps are infrequent and his chances of making the team are predictably slim. He is likely the most inexperienced football player on the field.
But in the last few days Binford began to return punts and kicks with the Packers’ regulars, another role he might play during the exhibition season. Perhaps he’ll even reach the end zone. Perhaps he’ll treat the fans to a dance.