U speedster could land in NFL

Murali Balaji

Minnesota senior Lee Hutton is a busy man these days, but his obligations are hardly related to his course work.
Hutton, a four-year letterwinner with the Gophers football team, is shuffling between starting a business, waiting on word from the University Law School and speculating about the NFL Draft this weekend. In a matter of days, Hutton could go from an aspiring lawyer to a professional football player.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the pros,” he said. “Playing in the NFL would be the greatest complement to my abilities as a football player and an athlete.”
But Hutton’s road to potential NFL draftee status wasn’t typical of most college players. Throughout his career with the Gophers, he was used primarily on special teams and sparingly on offense as a fourth or fifth receiver.
After a strong spring practice prior to the 1998 season, Hutton was a candidate to start in the Gophers’ three-receiver offense. However, his school obligations and work time during the summer hindered his ability to get reps in practice and pre-fall camp, leading to a demotion on the depth charts.
Hutton toiled in anonymity during his final season with the team. He finished the 1998 campaign with zero catches — and zero possibility of being invited to an NFL team camp.
But then the offseason workouts began, and Hutton’s stock suddenly shot up in the eyes of some NFL personnel as a player who could make an impact on special teams.
“I was told that I would be used exclusively on special teams, where I could turn some heads with my speed,” Hutton said.
Hutton ran a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash in a private workout with the Cleveland Browns, which immediately made him one of the fastest skill position players available in the draft pool. In addition, kung-fu classes added to his strength and enhanced his status as a potential converted defensive back.
With the strong postseason workouts and a lot of luck, Hutton could be picked as high as the sixth or seventh round in the draft, which would guarantee him a minimum salary of $108,500 per year. But while he is attracted by the relative financial security afforded by a professional football contract, Hutton isn’t concerned about his career prospects if the NFL opportunity falls through.
“If I got to play football, it would be a great way to pay for law school,” he said. “But I’m not even worrying about that. I think I have a solid future ahead of me, and I look at pro football as something to add to my rÇsumÇ.”
ù Other former Gophers players looking to be drafted or signed as free agents are linebacker Parc Williams, defensive tackle Antoine Richard, safety Keith Dimmy and linebacker/end Rufus Smith. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Williams was invited to the Hula Bowl this year, but was unimpressive in postseason workouts.
“We’ll just have to see what happens (after the draft),” Williams said.
Richard, who was the quiet anchor of the Gophers’ young defensive line last year, is regarded by some draft publications as a free agent camp invitee who could turn heads with his quickness and penetration in the trenches. Dimmy and Smith are long shots who could be in the running for CFL or World League roster spots.