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Column-In the front row: Falcons fill their draft day needs

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I'm not one of those people who sat in front of the television last weekend watching every boring second of the National Football League draft.

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I'd rather watch grass grow. That's why I spent most of the weekend in my backyard.

But one pick did catch my attention late Sunday afternoon. Taken in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams, was UW-Whitewater wide receiver Derek Stanley.

Stanley became the first WIAC player selected in the NFL draft since UW-Stout safety Tony Beckham was taken by the Tennessee Titans in 2002.

Stanley's credentials are impressive: Sixty-three catches for 1,141 yards and 17 touchdowns his senior season. Thirty-five touchdown catches and 2,648 receiving yards in his career.

Stanly put up those numbers while playing for a Whitewater offense led by former UW-River Falls wide receiver Stan Zweifel, who left Whitewater this spring to take over as offensive coordinator at his alma mater here in River Falls.

Coincidentally, Falcon head coach John O'Grady announced last week that 60 incoming freshman and transfers will be on hand when the Falcons open preseason practice for the 2007 season Aug. 11. O'Grady called the group; "On paper, the best class of recruits I can recall during my 18 years here at River Falls."

See where I'm going here?

There's a buzz surrounding Falcon football since Zweifel joined O'Grady's staff. Not only among fans, who were more than happy to see the Falcons abandon the wishbone last year in favor of a more pass-oriented offense, but among potential recruits, who saw what Zweifel was able to accomplish at Whitewater and are eager to play in a similar offense here at UW-RF.

I'm not saying a Falcon wide receiver is going to duplicate the numbers Stanley put up with the Warhawks, at least not next year, but just the fact it's possible makes it appealing.

Over the last 20 years the most catches by a Falcon receiver is 23, by Craig Boen in 1995. Only four Falcons have had 20 or more catches in a season since 1975.

Stanley made 63 catches last season alone. Now the coach he played for will be calling the plays at UW-RF.

Sure you need players to make the offense work. But the Falcons appear to have taken a huge step towards filling those needs with an all-state player, six all-region players and three conference player of the year award winners among the group of 60 newcomers. Nearly 40 of those newcomers are offensive players, including 20 who play the skill positions of wide receiver, running back, tight end or quarterback.

Is there another Derek Stanly in the bunch? Who knows? But it sure will be fun to find out after too many years of two yards and a cloud of dust.

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