Monday, June 11, 2007

Grambling greats: Ab Kuuan

Kuuan in it for long run
· GSU runner has become a factor in the Tigers' offensive game plan.
October 22, 2003

By Nick Deriso
A running back for the Grambling State Tigers is, at best, seldom used. At worst, he's completely forgotten.

That's understandable for a unit that leads the Southwestern Athletic Conference in passing offense.

You can be forgiven, then, for missing the arrival of Ab Kuuan - a 5-11, 195-pound sophomore from Sylacauga, Ala. One of several players vying for this thankless position last spring, Kuuan didn't run for a single yard in the season opener.

But by the next game, against Alcorn State, he was Grambling State's second-leading rusher on the day - just four yards back from Bruce Eugene, the Tigers' always-running quarterback.

Now, with five games left on the year, Kuuan has rocketed to the top of GSU's rushing list - averaging 45 yards a game.

"I kept working hard - knowing that my day would come and all the hard work would pay off," Kuuan says. "Once I got my chance, I showed them what I could do."

Kuuan became the first person besides Eugene to score a rushing touchdown. He now has three scores on the year.

"I like to keep them off balance," Kuuan says. "We spread them out throughout the game - and once we run the ball, it's so easy. It seems that way, anyway."

Last Saturday, Kuuan finished with 14 rushes for 95 yards against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, averaging a stinging 6.8 yards per carry. His longest dash was for 36 yards, as Grambling State won 41-16.

Kuuan was honored for that breakout performance with the SWAC Newcomer of the Week award on Monday.

"He has really matured as a runner," Tigers' coach Doug Williams says. "I think the more we run him, the better he is going to be."

Kuuan has been blessed, in part, by good timing: His coming of age coincided on the schedule with a trio of weaker SWAC opponents. As Grambling State put games away by the third quarter, offensive coordinator Melvin Spears increased the number of running plays.

"He's tough, extremely tough," Spears says. "He cuts back, and they can't tackle him. He keeps his feet moving. I really like him."

Kuuan has gained 241 of his 320 yards on the year in the last three weeks alone.

But his story is not predicated on luck: Kuuan is one of the hardest working guys on the team - as evidenced by his superior play when asked to help with special teams.

"He's run the football well," Williams says. "And watching him go down like that on special teams, running full out. You've got to love that."

Kuuan, who played both running back and linebacker in Sylacauga High School, immediately delivered two crushing blows on special teams.

"When I went down to scout him, I couldn't believe it," Spears says. "He was playing both ways, playing linebacker - and running all over the place. He's been everything we'd hoped."

Williams appreciates Kuuan for his versatility - and for his drive. "He's contributing not only as a runner, but also on the kickoffs," Williams says. "Ab Kuuan has proven to be a very, very tough football player. I tell you what, he's got a fan in his football coach."

Kuuan, for his part, says he's just doing his job: "I love to hit, so it's kind of second nature to me. I've still got that linebacker in me."

He is a serious player - but also a serious person.

GSU's 2003 Media Guide gives the players a chance to talk about some of their pastimes - with questions about favorite actors and books. The computer information systems major said he has none.

"I play sports," Kuuan says, "to express myself." He says he'd like to work at Microsoft after college.

But, in the meantime, Kuuan could very well change the focus of GSU's perennial pass-first offense.

"It will give us more of a balanced attack," Kuuan says. "It's going to keep everybody honest."

His quick maturation means Grambling State can unfurl an important new wrinkle against more complete teams like Jackson State, Alabama State and Southern - each of whom remain on the 2003 schedule.

"I can't do anything but get better," Kuuan says. "There's nowhere to go but up for us. The future holds nothing but good things."

And, yeah, Kuuan says he's prepared to play both ways again in the future, if needed.

"If coach puts me over there, I'll be happy to go over there," he says. "Whatever will help the team."

That commitment, as much as anything, has keyed his rapid rise on this Grambling State offense.

"When you've got a guy with a big heart like that," Spears says, "you can go a long way with him."

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GSU runs away with this one
November 28, 2004

By Nick Deriso
NEW ORLEANS - What a rush.

A bruising ground game earned Grambling State a winning season - and redeemed an awful 1-12 run against Southern - at Saturday's 31st Bayou Classic.

Four rushers combined for 292 yards as GSU beat the Jaguars 24-13. The Tigers finished 6-5 on the year, and altered Southern's postseason plans.

At 8-3, the Jaguars now must await the outcome of Arkansas-Pine Bluff's Dec. 4 contest against Alabama State, which will determine if the Jaguars advance to the Southwestern Athletic Conference title game.

"We wanted that winning season," said interim GSU coach Melvin Spears, "and it came down to the Bayou Classic. I thought that was outstanding."

Grambling State used an effective running game to keep the contest just out of reach, as top rusher Ab Kuuan had an average of seven yards per carry.

"I knew if our guys put forth the effort, and stayed focused," said Spears, "we could run the ball on Southern."

And how.

Kuuan finished with 126 yards on 18 carries before a crowd of 68,911 at the Louisiana Superdome - and many more on NBC's national television broadcast. Three rushing touchdowns gave Kuaan back-to-back 10 touchdown seasons and tied his single-game best.

The brilliance of that ground game from Kuuan, along with sophomore fullback Ruben Mayes, meant GSU freshman quarterback Brandon Landers would attempt just 13 passes.

"I've just got to tip my hat to the offensive line," said Kuuan, who was named player of the game. "They knew we were going to come in and run the ball. We had two weeks to prepare and that meant we all had fresh legs coming in. Thinking about this win sends chills down my spine."

But that run-oriented approach led to a low-scoring first half. One season after these two teams combined for 32 first-half points - and 85 at the end - GSU and Southern put up just nine at the break. Only 21 second-half points kept this from becoming the lowest scoring Bayou Classic ever. The record is Southern's 10-3 victory in 1988.

That was just what Spears wanted.

But the Tigers gave up a disputed 48-yard touchdown reception as time expired on the half to push Southern ahead for the first time on Saturday. Spears was still arguing with the officials after the teams had gone to the locker rooms.

Replays seemed to indicate that junior Emile Bryant's knee hit the ground at the GSU 1, but the play stood. The extra-point kick failed, leaving the score at 6-3 at the half.

That was not what Spears wanted - because the Southern touchdown signaled a return to the usual momentum-shifting mood swings so closely associated with this 53-year-old rivalry.

GSU retook the lead on a seven-play, 68-yard drive to open the second half, scoring on a fourth-and-one with a 10-yard rush by Kuuan. Senior Brian Morgan's kick made it 10-6.

But as the third quarter drew to a close, Southern running back Devin Herbert's 2-yard TD run capped an eight-play, 41-yard drive. The Jaguars led again, 13-10.

Kuuan answered with a 1-yard scoring blast at the top of the fourth quarter. Morgan's kick brought the score to 17-13.

GSU then made a critical stop, as senior defender Kenneth Pettway blocked a long field-goal attempt that was then recovered on the Southern 40-yard-line by GSU sophomore Greg Fassitt.

The Tigers' ensuing scoring drive, again without a single pass, ended on a diving run by Kuuan to seal the win.

"I knew I had to come in and stick with the game plan," said Landers - who, after leading the SWAC in picks this season, was unblemished on Saturday. "I used to watch this game on TV. To be on the field for such a great win for this institution is a great feeling."

Landers wasn't alone. The Tigers completed their first game of the season without a turnover.

"We felt like if we didn't turn the ball over," said GSU offensive coordinator Sammy White, "we'd have a great chance to win. Then, we'd just keep running the ball to keep them off balance."

Southern quarterback Thomas Ricks, who was chosen SWAC offensive player of the week five times this season, did his best to spark Southern - passing for 176 yards and a touchdown and leading Jaguar rushers with 93 yards.

But with GSU holding onto the ball for more than 36 minutes, it wasn't enough.

"They had two big backs, and a huge line. They just kept beating on us," said Southern coach Pete Richardson, whose team entered the game at No. 20 in Division I-AA by ESPN/USA Today. "They really beat us up."

Grambling State revealed its all-run motives in its first drive, relying on Kuuan and Mayes to get to the Southern 29-yard line. But GSU had to settle for a field goal try after Landers was sacked on third down, and Morgan missed.

"I don't know if it was a mess-up with the hold or what, but it just didn't come out right," said Morgan, who later connected on another 39-yarder in the second quarter. "I didn't have the greatest game. But today, it didn't matter."

GSU defensive end Jason Hatcher, a Jena product, blocked a 47-yard attempt by Breck Ackley with 20 seconds left in the first quarter, to keep the game scoreless.

On a fourth-and-nine, Kuaan gained 32 yards to the Southern 25 on a fake punt early in the second quarter. Morgan then scored the game's first points.

There were moments when the game looked like it might turn in Southern's favor.

As returner Gabe Wallace moved into GSU territory on a second-quarter punt return, junior Matt Duhe knocked the ball loose. Kuaan recovered at the GSU 39.

But then a delay-of-game penalty pushed the Tigers back to midfield. GSU went for it consecutive fourth downs after an off-side penalty, but came away with no points.

Flags, in fact, fell like rainstorms - with 13 for 79 yards in the first half alone. Both teams - ranked No. 1 and 2 in the conference for penalties - would eventually combine for 121 yards on fouls.

But GSU continued its relentless, slow assault.

"It feels so, so good," said Farmerville sophomore linebacker Dimitri Carr, as players attempted to douse defensive coordinator Luther Palmer with a cooler of ice water. "I can't believe I've got two more!"

photo caption Michael Dunlap/The News-Star GSU running back Ab Kuuan flies into the end zone for one of his three touchdowns Saturday against Southern. The junior was named Player of the Game forhis scores and 126 rushing yards.

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GSU's running game is set
Kuuan returns to Tigers after rigorous work
August 9, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Fans might expect something to change in Grambling State's running game, no matter who wins the starting quarterback spot.

Reigning conference freshman of the year Brandon Landers, the Carroll High product, is sure to be more comfortable in the system after starting all but three quarters last season.

Bruce Eugene, the one-time All-America perennial, is also back after suffering that knee injury in the 2004 season-opener. Should he regain the starting spot, Eugene would rank as the most prolific passer returning in Division I-AA.

So, where does that leave running back Ab Kuuan, last seen hoisting the MVP trophy at the season-ending Bayou Classic? After all, coaches at Grambling presumably turned to the run as a way to mask youth in the passing game during this past injury-plagued campaign.

Kuuan is hopeful.

"I have been anticipating the first day of practice for a long time," said Kuuan, as Grambling convened for its first fall sessions. "Over the break (after summer school), I didn't even go home."

Instead, he continued an already-legendary workout regimen. And his coaches worked on a new-look game plan.

"Ab Kuuan," GSU coach Melvin Spears reminds, "is 228 pounds now - and that's just 2 percent body fat. He's getting better every week."

Which means Spears won't be giving up on the run, even if the team returns this season to its successful downfield-oriented roots from the Doug Williams era.

Kuuan, who led the team in rushing last season, notched three consecutive games of more than 100 yards in the final three contests of 2004 - his only times past the century mark all year. Kuuan also scored six of his 10 rushing touchdowns in that trio of Saturdays, as well.

Meanwhile, Grambling surged to a winning record of 6-5 over that span, after standing at 3-4 on Oct. 23.

The Bayou Classic trophy now sits in a place of honor upstairs in the Stadium Support Facility, situated so that it's visible during Spears' weekly news conferences this fall.

Many credit Kuuan's dominance in the Big Easy for the win.

Which leaves Carl Roberts, Grambling's offensive line coach, prepping for more of those running plays, even while re-installing schemes to protect during the expected revival of aerial pyrotechnics.

"Hopefully, it will be an incentive for us to work that much harder," said Roberts, in his second season at GSU after a long tenure at Jackson State.

Kuuan finished as the Southwestern Athletic Conference's ninth rusher in total yards, and 2005 was the second straight year he led GSU in rushing. His 637 total yards on the ground for the season has only been bested twice in the eight seasons since 1997 at Grambling.

Kuuan is joined in the backfield by change-of-pace backs Keantwon Gray and Landry "Blue" Carter.

"Bruce's return just provides us with another weapon," said Kuuan. "Teams won't be able to key on the run, because they know we can pass as well."

Which means that whoever is named to start under center, opposing teams will be forced to honor the play-action fake - a tip of the hat to Kuuan's recent dominance.

"Our opponents will have to be on their toes at all times," Kuuan said. "They won't know whether we are going to run it or pass it."

The Tigers completed their first full day of the 2005 football training camp on campus. The team worked out in shorts and helmets on Monday afternoon while earlier in the morning, the team attended meetings and lifted weights.

Spears said he was pleased with the team's performance during the first day of actual drills. The team worked on basic fundamentals throughout the course of Monday's workout.

"I thought that they moved around real well with a lot of enthusiasm," he said. "You can tell that we had an outstanding off-season with all of the guys here in camp. Condition-wise, they look great. The main thing is that we brought in some guys who can bring some competition. We saw some guys who were not hustling a whole lot before are now all of a sudden getting it done."

The team will hit the field at 2:30 p.m. today. Grambling State's Media Day is scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Robinson Stadium Support Facility.

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A thousand reasons to run the ball
Grambling's Kuuan looks to be key component in '06 offense
August 10, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Is Grambling on the verge of producing its first 1,000-yard rusher in five years — and just the second since 1993?

Not surprisingly, the ever-talkative tailback Ab Kuuan says yes. (In fact, he wants 1,500.) Turns out, that's a goal shared by the coaching staff and offensive line, as well.

Not just because Kuuan, a gym rat beyond compare, has earned it. But also because it will likely smooth the way for redshirt Brandon Landers as he steps in for departed quarterback Bruce Eugene.

"We look to do that, get Kuuan to 1,000," said versatile senior lineman Jamar Dorsey. "That opens up the passing game for Brandon. We can pound them early, then take them deep late. Last year, we showed we could run the ball and still be Grambling."

He means the Grambling that's led Division I-AA in passing offense three out of the last four years.

Kuuan's best season yet at GSU didn't start that way.

He was hampered by an ankle problem and only saw spot duty over two games beginning with Washington State last year. Robbed of his explosiveness, he ran just one time against that I-A opponent, and a suddenly one-dimensional Grambling was blown out.

But Kuuan would then streak to 891 yards on the year, finishing fourth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Even missing nearly all of two games, he averaged 74 yards per contest — fifth in the SWAC. His 5-yards-per-carry average and nine rushing touchdowns ranked third among all other rushers in the Top 10.

Kuuan, in fact, has gotten steadily more productive since running 92 times for 423 yards in 2003, though that still was a team-leading mark. He ran for 637 yards in 2004 (leading the team again), and his 10 touchdowns were third among Top 10 SWAC rushers.

Slowly, but surely, Kuuan's presence has meant rewriting a few pages in the playbook.

"We look for our running back to get 1,000 yards this year," confirmed GSU offensive coordinator Sammy White. "He got 800 last year and that was after he didn't get going for several games because of an injury. Imagine him playing in every game."

That's why the dreadlocked Kuuan stands near the middle of the spotlight this preseason, even with the change at quarterback.

Landers isn't being asked to mimic the eye-popping passing heroics of the past few years, as Eugene rewrote school and Division I-AA passing record books. His Alabama-born running back is the reason.

Kuuan may not get as many touches as he did in 2004, when Landers was pushed into duty as a true freshman. But he'll clearly be a big part of this offense.

"I think 1,500 is a very reachable goal," Kuuan said. "The coaches will get us prepared. It's up to us."

Ruben runs again: Fullback Ruben Mayes, a ferocious blocker and rusher, has returned to practice after off-season knee surgery.

He also missed the Washington State game, and parts of several others — including the SWAC Championship Game.

A sign of how eager he was to get back on the field: Mayes got sent out of a drill by GSU coach Melvin Spears because he'd emerged without his knee brace.

Mayes chuckled about it later, acknowledging his over-eagerness.

"I feel good, a lot better," said Mayes. "Better than I thought I would at this point."

Mayes averaged a startling 21-yards-per-carry in limited action over eight games in 2005. He also made a clutch, check-down scoring catch that proved to be an emotional turning point in the Bayou Classic.

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Will GSU return to run in Classic?
2004 game in New Orleans deviated from usual high-scoring shootouts
November 22, 2006

By Nick Deriso
Forgive the poor soul who came in thinking the 2004 Bayou Classic was going to be a pass-happy scoring bonanza.

After all, that's nearly become the template for this game. Just a season before, Grambling and Southern had combined for a staggering 1,136 yards of total offense, with 961 of it coming in the air.

Not in 2004, the last time the Classic was played in New Orleans.

Grambling, with true freshman Brandon Landers subbing for the injured quarterback Bruce Eugene, instead unleashed a brutal ground attack — chewing up yards, the clock and, finally, Southern. GSU won 24-13, in one of the lowest scoring Classics ever.

How much that resembles this year's Bayou Classic, with Landers again under center and the game making a triumphal return to New Orleans, remains to be seen.

But it certainly worked last time.

Back in 2004, Landers only attempted 13 passes — with his longest, a 19-yarder, going to fellow freshman Clyde Edwards — but beamed with open-hearted joy while running back Ab Kuaan hoisted the MVP trophy.

"Getting a chance to go to the Dome in 2004 and play was a dream come true," Landers says these days. "That was the biggest game of my career."

Southern quarterback Thomas Ricks, chosen SWAC offensive player of the week five times that season, did his best to spark his team — passing for 176 yards and a touchdown and leading all Jaguar rushers with 93 yards.

But GSU held onto the ball for more than 36 minutes while four rushers combined for 292 yards.

Kuuan accounted for 126 of those yards on 18 carries. His three rushing touchdowns gave Kuaan back-to-back 10 touchdown seasons and tied his single-game best.

That, Southern coach Pete Richardson insists, was a long time ago.

Now 0-2 against Spears in the Classic, Richardson has no doubt noted Kuuan, who averaged more than 100 yards rushing for the final month of 2004, is gaining just 53 a night this season.

Grambling enters this year's game looking more like the 2005 edition, leading the conference in passing and scoring just as it did after Eugene returned with a medical redshirt.

"I'm concerned about Brandon Landers," Richardson insists. "They spread the ball around."

But sticking with the familiar downfield approach hasn't led to the same success without Eugene.

Last year, GSU went undefeated in league play, including a 50-35 win over Southern in Houston. Using a quarterbacking tandem of Landers and fellow redshirt sophomore Larry Kerlegan, Grambling has stumbled to 3-6 - with no hope even for a winning season.

That's got some fans hoping this homecoming to New Orleans will mean a return to a run-first look.

It worked, they remind, last time.

"This year, it will be more of a combination, a more balanced attack," Spears said. "Our offense is one that is based on what they give us. Certainly, we'd like to run the ball — but if they put nine men in the box, trying to stop Ab Kuuan, we will have recognize that formation and adjust."

As he did in 2004, Edwards remains Landers' favorite target. He leads Grambling in catches, yards and touchdowns.

"Brandon and I have worked well together from the beginning," Edwards said. "We certainly would like to continue doing that. The Bayou Classic is always a big game. Whether we pass it or run it, we just need the win."

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Measure of a team
Another close game turns into another close loss for Grambling
November 26, 2006

By Nick Deriso
NEW ORLEANS — Of course.

Of course, Grambling State jumped out to the lead, then gave it away. Of course, they played sloppy, even ugly, then charged back to the arm-waving precipice of a stirring win — only to fall just short.

Of course.

After all, the Tigers lost their first game this season by one point. And their second game by three. And three more now by 5 points each.

This Grambling squad is the embodiment of a football cliché. Theirs is a life of inches.

They've existed in space between here and . . .


So, of course, they lose 21-17 to Southern in the Bayou Classic, but only after failing to gain a first down on fourth-and-one from the SU 2 in the game's waning minutes.

There were 19 points, all of them an inch away, between this underachieving GSU team and an 8-2 record. Between them and a return trip to the SWAC Championship Game.

"We had our opportunities," said Henry Tolbert, who led all Grambling receivers with 67 yards on four catches. "We just didn't capitalize."

There has been, from the beginning of 2006, an inch or two separating this team from what it would like to be, from what perhaps it should be.

Still, there was nothing to suggest the disquieting prospect of this game's nearly unwatchable first half.

We saw two deposed SWAC powers underscoring why they had but six wins between them, after each has averaged eight a season over the last 10.

Unlike so many recent Bayou Classics, these 1,000-yard passing nights that seem so very far away now, this contest didn't look to be one where the team that scored last would win.

It would be the team that scored at all.

Grambling and Southern split their first-quarter time of possession almost exactly in half, with similar results: Tigers 0, Jaguars 0.

Grambling finally found the end zone in the second period, followed by a chorus of touchdowns from both teams late in the game, but even then there was little music to this game's backbeat of mistakes on both sides — from questionable coaching to untimely penalties and messy execution.

Southern had a tremendous 25-yard third-quarter touchdown by Bryant Lee on a designed quarterback run called back on a holding penalty. Jaguars kicker Breck Ackley, who'd only whiffed three times all year, had a 26-yarder blocked and then missed from 41 yards out.

The deciding points from Southern followed a badly mishandled punt return by Landry Carter that gave the Jaguars the ball inside GSU's red zone.

That score, a 2-yard outside run by running back Kendall Addison, was actually keyed by a fumble from Southern quarterback C.J. Byrd — who briefly replaced an injured Lee. The fumble rolled forward, however, and Byrd recovered for a first and goal.

It was that kind of afternoon.

I don't even want to think about Grambling punting on third down. Or Southern taking three points off the board in a failed attempt to score a touchdown after a GSU penalty.

Somebody had to win. They just had to.

Ultimately, it became clear that it would be Southern, which eventually began getting out of Lee what GSU had hoped to get out of starting the athletic Larry Kerlegan — tough-to-figure scrambles mixed in with a timely pass.

But Kerlegan had been ineffective in the early going, so he was replaced by fellow redshirt sophomore Brandon Landers.

He then joined in what has become a familiar refrain: Southern tied it, then went ahead, then Grambling answered back, then the Jaguars scored again, leaving GSU in the same position it occupied so many other times all year.

That is, with time short — and a very long field.

Landers methodically moved Grambling along, even as the fourth quarter drained away, handing off to senior running back Ab Kuuan at the Southern 25, the 11, the 4, then the 2.

That's where it stood, with less than three minutes remaining. GSU was left with a fourth down, and the Bayou Classic to go.

Get a yard, and there are four more downs to negotiate the remaining yard. Get two yards, and Grambling is ahead by two. Follow that with the extra point, and Southern must score a touchdown to win.

Instead, GSU lost two yards.

GSU coach Melvin Spears called "Power I, Right, 43 Lead," with Kuuan — the MVP of this game in 2004, the last time it was played at the Superdome — going over tackle.

When the senior reached the hole, it had collapsed. Just that quickly, two Southern defenders were on top of him.

Kuuan tried to bounce outside in an effort to free himself, but that's where he met Southern defensive back Jarmaul George.

A senior who, because of injury and ineligibility, had never played in a Bayou Classic before.

Of course.

"You don't know how much that hurts," said senior Grambling offensive lineman Jamar Dorsey. "To come up a yard short?"

He paused, then said: "It hurts."

The resulting tackle, which pushed Kuuan back to the SU 4, sent Southern fans into a frenzy.

See, they'd lost two Bayou Classics in a row, but these Jaguars have a knack for winning the close ones. Going back 15 years, Grambling has fallen to Southern by 3 points in 2003, by 4 in 2000, by 5 in 1996 and by 1 point in 1991.

Of course, they would win another nail-biter.

"You've got to finish that run," said Spears, shaking his head. "You've got to finish it. As a result, we lost."

He knows the words by heart, like a song that once played in heavy rotation.

There have been other details, but the results? They lost.

"It's the story," senior Henry Tolbert repeated, "of our season."

We should have known it would come down to something so mundane as an inch for the 2006 edition of the Grambling State Tigers. To something as obvious as a play here, or a player there.

Of course. It has all year.

NICK DERISO is sports editor at The News-Star, 411 N. Fourth St., Monroe, La., 71201. His weblog is at Contact him at 318-362-0234 or at

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Weekend could be quiet time at GSU
Kuuan, teammates not too high on draft lists
April 27, 2007

By Nick Deriso
Grambling State's graduated seniors can take solace if they go unselected in the NFL Draft.

Two of the program's most famous football products, Willie Brown and Everson Walls, went undrafted — and both found their way to multiple Pro Bowls. Brown even made the Hall of Fame.

Players like GSU running back Ab Kuuan understand that they might be following the same uphill path.

"I've talked to a few scouts, but it's hard to tell if there is any real interest," said Kuuan. "All I can do is sit back and wait."

If Kuuan and the other Grambling seniors don't hear their names this weekend, it will be the first time that's happened since 2004. Last year, defender Jason Hatcher was a third-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys; Kenneth Pettway was taken on the second day of the 2005 draft by the Houston Texans.

Kuuan and record-breaking receiver Henry Tolbert both received one-star ratings from, but are unranked in their respective draft categories on the site.

Tony McClean of the Black Athlete Sports Network, listed Kuuan and Tolbert as one of black college football's Top 8 pre-season draft prospects, while's Gil Brandt also included Tolbert as one of just 14 non-Division I-A players in his pre-season watch list.

But both had off years as Grambling slipped to 3-8 in 2006.

Tolbert had 48 catches and 730 yards (with just four touchdowns) last season, after a career-best 74 receptions, 1,391 yards and 19 scores as a junior.

By the end of a disappointing season, had dropped the converted running back to a "camp prospect." Sports Illustrated predicts that he will become an undrafted free agent, but said Tolbert "has the skills necessary to be a fifth receiver at the next level."

Louisiana football analyst Mike Detillier of Raceland has Tolbert ranked as the No. 61 available receiver in the draft.

Through he perhaps lacks an ideal burst, Tolbert had tirelessly worked to improve, nearly doubling his receiving production every successive year — logging 391 yards in 2003 and then 563 in 2004 before his breakout '05 campaign. As a junior, Tolbert set a new school record for receiving touchdowns in a season with 20 — surpassing Eric Gant's 19 scores, a mark which had stood for 13 years.

"He has only been playing the receiver position for three years and he has yet to reach his full potential," according to the Louisiana-based "Tolbert is a versatile player who could project as a running back or receiver at the next level. He has a good deal of upside and should be a second day pick."

Kuuan, meanwhile, led Grambling in rushing for four consecutive seasons, but similarly slipped from 891 yards as a junior to 551 last year. reported Kuuan's time in the 40-yard dash at 4.77 seconds and then 4.71 seconds. A solid performance in the North-South All-Star Classic postseason showcase, where Kuuan ran five times for 26 yards, helped him to recognition as a sleeper pick on several draft sites.

"Kuuan runs hard and strong, however he's more of an inside runner who struggles at times to turn the corner and pick up speed," McClean said. "He has the size to play at the pro level, but must work hard to improve on his blocking."

Pro Football Weekly has Kuuan listed as the No. 46 available running back. Detillier has him at No. 33.

Allen Trieu of lists Tolbert as the No. 21 small-school draft sleeper, with GSU offensive lineman Andre Bennett at No. 27 and Kuuan at No. 35. Cornerback Greg Fassitt, linebacker David Hicks and fullback Ruben Mayes may also have performed well enough for scouts to warrant some attention.

In fact, Fassitt's 4.36 40-time was ranked as the 11th fastest in the nation by

"I'm hoping to get drafted," said Mayes, a former Tennessee transfer who ranked No. 42 among available fullbacks on "If not, then I'll get into someone's camp."

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