(Published April 30, 2007, 3:08 p.m.)
Derek Stanley has hit the big time.
The UW-Whitewater standout wide receiver was selected in the seventh round of the National Football League draft by the St. Louis Rams last Sunday. The Verona native was the 249th pick.
"That was always a goal of mine playing college football," Stanley said about being drafted. "You never think it's going to happen. It's an unbelievable feeling."
He added, "I thank God for this opportunity. If it wasn't for God, I wouldn't be in the situation I am in."
Stanley, the first ever UW-Whitewater player drafted, earned All-America honors as both a receiver and kick returner for the Warhawks.
He is the school's career record holder for receiving yards (2,621) and touchdown receptions (35). The latter mark is also the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference record.
He one-upped his own single-season touchdown record when he hauled in 17 scores in 2006 and holds the single-season reception yardage mark at 1,328, set in 2005. He has 130 career receptions, and a 20.2-yard per catch average.
Stanley helped the Warhawks go undefeated in 2005 and 2006 before losing the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Championship, the Stagg Bowl, to Mount Union (Ohio).
According to the Rams Web site, "Stanley is on the small side, but has the speed and versatility worth taking a flyer on."
NFL.com's Gil Brandt said Stanley almost 5-foot-10-inches tall, 172 pounds and ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash.
In a pre-draft review by Yahoo Sports, columnist John Murphy listed Stanley as a "small school wonder."
"Stanley has average size, but his ability to stretch the field-even on reverses-has already captured the attention of a handful of Midwest area scouts," Murphy wrote.
The athleticism shined through on the track, too, where Stanley helped him earn All-America honors in the long jump four times in his three seasons on the UW-Whitewater track team.
Stanley may have flown under the radar on most NFL teams. Several had contacted him, but the Rams showed the most serious interest by coming to his personal workout.
"Scouts can see talent when they come to town," Stanley said. "I'm just glad they saw me. They'll find you if you can play ball."
Stanley knows he'll have the best chance to make the 53-man roster as a special teams performer, but feels he has the tools to one day line up with Rams all-pro receiver Torry Holt.
"I know with my size, it's a downside for the NFL, but at the same time, I know I'm going to have to run sharper routes and use speed and technique," Stanley said. "Not everyone needs a 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver. Some teams want little guys that can play the slot, that can move around and be elusive, things that bigger guys can't always do."
One of Stanley's bigger teammates, tight end Pete Schmitt had, according to some analysts, draft potential.
Schmitt went undrafted, but has accepted a tryout with the Washington Redskins and will attend the team's minicamp, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"I think Pete has got a great upside," Stanley said. "Big kid. Great size. Great ability not only blocking, but as a receiving tight end. If he keeps his (positive) attitude, he can do whatever he wants. He has a tremendous upside for a possible career in the NFL."
Date to watch: Sunday, Dec. 16.
Should Stanley make the Rams roster, he'll potentially line up against the Green Bay Packers, his favorite NFL team, at the Edward Jones Dome in the 15th week of the regular season.
"I'm a huge Packer fan. I don't know if I'm allowed to root for them still," Stanley said.
Date to remember: Oct. 29, 2002
Stanley showed he has something special in one of his final high school games. Against the Delavan-Darien Comets in 2002, Stanley, then a tailback, rushed 19 times for 188 yards and two scores to help advance in the Division 2 playoffs. Teammate Craig Bollig rumbled for 148 yards on 22 carries. The tandem complied nearly all of Verona's yards in the Wildcat's34-7 win.
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