GREEN BAY – If someone dares you to name a wide receiver born in this state over the past 50 years who has had more than a middling career in the NFL, don’t take the bet.
Ask to check back in three or four years.
By then we’ll know if 2018 is something resembling a trend or just an anomaly because that is when we should know whether two receivers from the same state high school are on their way to something big.
There is a strong possibility that Daurice Fountain and Jester Weah, alumni of Madison Memorial High School and close friends, will be selected in the NFL draft next week.
Fountain, who played at Northern Iowa, and Weah, who played at Pittsburgh, may become the first pair of wide receivers from the same Wisconsin high school to be drafted and play in an NFL game in the same year.
Using Pro-Football-Reference.com’s data base, there have been a number of cases of Wisconsin high school teammates getting drafted and playing at least one game in the NFL in the same year since the draft began in 1936.
The last two were Kenosha Bradford's Trae Waynes (Minnesota, 11th) and Melvin Gordon (San Diego, 15th) in 2015. Others include another pair of Madison Memorial teammates -- linebacker Rick Graf (Miami, second round) and cornerback Tyrone Braxton (Denver, 12th) -- in 1987. Madison Central halfback Ted Scalissi (Green Bay, 17th) and end Clarence Esser (Chicago Cardinals, 20th) appear to be the first to do it.
Pro-Football-Reference.com didn’t have a way to search players who were drafted and didn’t play in the NFL, but it’s still likely Fountain and Weah will be the first two receivers from the same Wisconsin high school to get drafted in the same year.
“That’s amazing, especially because me and Jester are so close,” Fountain said. “I’ve known him since I don’t know. When I was first a freshman and he was a sophomore (at Memorial), we ran track together and then played football. We played with each other and we’ve been like brothers.”
“That is my brother,” Weah said. “Ever since I met him, we just clicked.”
When it comes to producing NFL players, Wisconsin is famous for churning out offensive linemen. From Fuzzy Thurston (Altoona) to Mike Webster (Tomahawk) to Paul Gruber (Sauk Prairie) to Mark Tauscher (Auburndale), the NFL has tapped the state regularly for talent upfront.
But this year not only are Fountain and Weah prospects as receivers, UW–Oshkosh’s Sam Mentkowski raised some eyebrows at Wisconsin’s pro day by running a 4.41-second 40-yard dash. Mentkowski led all of Division III with 1,477 receiving yards and will be hoping to get into a training camp one way or another.
There might have been four receiver candidates had Wisconsin’s Jazz Peavy, a Kenosha native, decided to pursue an NFL career. Peavy was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection in 2016, but injuries sidetracked him in ’17 and he did not take part in Badgers pro day.
“Usually, it seems like mostly linemen, but I do think Wisconsin skill guys get left out of recruiting,” Mentkowski said. “There are some really skilled athletes here. They don’t get the exposure other guys do. They’re usually multi-sport athletes. They’re not playing 7-on-7 football (in the offseason) like in other places.”
Considering it’s arguable that the only two Wisconsin natives who had long, productive careers as NFL receivers since the draft began were Elroy Hirsch (1946-48; 1949-57) and Frank Clarke (1957-67), it is remarkable that two could be drafted in the same year.
And if it’s athletes the colleges or NFL want, they've got them in Fountain and Weah.
After Fountain won MVP honors at the East-West Shrine game following a breakout season at UNI, the NFL combine snubbed the 6-1½, 210-pound Fountain, testing 44 other receivers. It was obvious combine officials made a big mistake when Fountain blew up the UNI-Dome in Cedar Rapids on March 26.
Fountain ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, the short shuttle in 4.29 seconds and the 3-cone drill in 7.02 seconds, registered a vertical jump of 42½ inches and a broad jump of 11 feet, 2 inches, and benched 225 pounds 14 times.
Had he produced those numbers at the combine he would have tied for 10th in the 40, finished 14th in the shuttle, 20th in the 3-cone, first in the vertical, first in the broad jump and tied for 18th in the bench press.
His hand size of 9½ inches would have tied for 13th and his arm length of 34½ inches would have been first.
Once Fountain posted those numbers, teams were climbing all over one another to get another look at him. He made around a dozen pre-draft visits, testing and interviewing with teams eager to get more information.
He went from a fifth- or sixth-round prospect to someone who might sneak into the second day.
“I consider that normal,” Fountain said of his pro day performance. “I worked hard over the last few months, but I always knew I had that God-given ability. I knew I would test pretty well. It was a great experience.”
Fountain understands there’s more to being a player than testing numbers and he’ll have to show he can run across the middle of the field as well as he can run down it and outjump defensive backs. His route-running will have to be sharper and he’ll have to be consistent.
Asked to evaluate Fountain, Weah said, “He’s a force of nature. He’s very explosive. Once he gets the ball in his hands, something big is going to happen. He’s got great character. He’s a down-to-earth guy.”
Weah is no slouch athletically either, especially for a guy who stands 6-2 and weighs 211 pounds. At the combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds (T-9th), had a vertical of 38 inches (T-4th), a broad jump of 10-feet, 9 inches (T-3rd) and a bench press of 15 reps (T-13th).
Weah, whose uncle George is a famous soccer player and is now the president of Liberia, didn’t start playing football until his sophomore year at Madison Memorial. His favorite sport was basketball and that was the path he was going to take until Fountain convinced him to come out for football.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was recruiting Weah, but when Gary Anderson replaced him, Weah dropped off the Badgers’ radar, so he decided to go play for Paul Chryst at Pitt. Because of his newness to football, he redshirted in 2013 and didn’t catch a pass in ’14 or ’15.
Weah said he considered transferring to Wisconsin after Chryst left in ‘15, but family members told him he needed to finish what he started and so he played his final three seasons under Pat Narduzzi. It wasn’t until ’16, when he caught 36 passes for 870 yards (24.2 average) and 10 touchdowns, that people began to take notice.
His senior-year numbers dropped, but it might have been more about quarterback play than about him. Scouts see the athletic ability and the potential to play physically, but he’ll have to sharpen his routes and show he can use his feet to get off jams at the line of scrimmage.
He did not test as well on the short-area drills.
“I’ve been working on come-backs and types of routes where you have to get in and out of your breaks quickly,” Weah said.
The two former high school teammates expect to watch the draft together in Madison. They have a camp scheduled for Madison youth at the Keva Sports Center on July 6, where they will tutor kids ages 6 to 16.
After that, it will be off to training camp and the start, they hope, of something big.