The Crescent City has produced plenty of NFL talent. The road to the "Big Show" can differ from one former prep star to another.
Former St. Augustine High standout Selvish Capers is currently a member of the World Champion New York Giants. the offensive tackle is one of five locals on the Giants roster, including DB Chris Horton (De La Salle), Corey Webster (St. James), Ryan Perrilloux (East St. John) and Eli Manning (Newman). There is a definitive bayou connection in the Big Apple.
"We talk 'New Orleans talk'," Selvish chuckled. "I can always go to them."
Even Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP and the toast of Broadway, is a humble member of the Louisiana bunch and does not seek the limelight. "Eli's laid back. He can handle himself," Capers said.
Entering his second campaign in the nation's largest city has been an education of sorts for Capers." I love New York," he continued. "There is so much to do. You can find anything. There is never a dull moment. It is so diverse."
They don't call it the Big Apple for nothing. But Capers takes it all in stride. "Being from New Orleans, I thought that it was big at first. I do love New York, even though they have some crazy taxi drivers."
Selvish enjoyed a stellar prep career as an All-State, All Metro and twice All-District tight end for the Purple Knights. He also found success on the hardwood as a member of the St. Aug basketball team. His hoops squad made it to the state title game before dropping a one-point decision to district rival, Brother Martin, led by current NBA point guard D.J. Augustin.
After considering football offers from the likes of LSU, Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas, Memphis and Vanderbilt, Capers decided on joining the Mountaineers of West Virginia to continue his career.
One draw for Capers to Morgantown was a hometown connection. Former Booker T. Washington High, Southern University and NFL tight end Calvin Magee handled the recruiting duties for then-West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez.
"He recruited me. He knew where I was from," Capers said of Magee. "Chris Henry (Belle Chasse) and Darius Reynaud (Hahnville) were also there. It felt like home away from home."
Visualizing himself catching touchdown passes from the tight end position was short circuited. Although beginning his college career wearing a jersey number in the 80's, that soon changed, much to his chagrin at the time.
"They recruited me as a tight end. I played there as a sophomore. Before the spring of my junior year (in 2007,) they called me in. Coach Magee informed me . He told me that they were moving me because it would be a better fit and at offensive tackle it would be better for me in the NFL."
The news completely took him by surprise. He wasn't sure of his immediate future. "I was thinking everything negative. I wanted to jump on the table and go crazy. I went home and cried." Capers soon adjusted.
Possessing a 6-foot-5 frame while still running a sub 5.0 forty, the potential was obviously there. " I just got used to playing there. They put me at left tackle. I was doing pretty good. Everything was okay, although I wasn't totally settled in, I decided to go out and compete," Capers explained.
In his very first start at tackle on October 20, 2007, Capers and West Virginia hammered SEC foe Mississippi State, 38-13. But he received more challenging news the week of the game when he was informed that he was being shifted to right tackle. The team had just lost a heartbreaker to South Florida two weeks prior, and the staff were looking for answers.
"The coaches blamed the offensive line for the South Florida loss (21-13). I took offense to their remarks. I wasn't even playing. Coach Rod told me that if I can do better, he'd give me a chance."
I remember the Mississippi State game very well. I was the color analyst for the ESPN broadcast. Knowing Capers' background from New Orleans, I kept an eye on him, knowing it was his baptism of fire. Yet he performed like an experienced veteran tackle.
Selvish spent his time at West Virginia under contrasting head coaching philosophies from Rich Rodriguez and the late Bill Stewart. I have said many times, in all my years of covering college football and doing TV broadcasts, Bill Stewart was the friendliest and most engaging coach with which I'd ever crossed paths. He always seemed genuinely interested in me and what was going on in my world. Others share this view.
"I had a good relationship with Rich Rod," Capers said. "He was a coach first and took his job very seriously, not necessarily your friend. Bill Stewart? He was my man. He had high expectations, but he let you play. He let his assistant coaches coach. He stayed back and watched. He treated me like a leader, not just a player. That's what I liked about him."
The offensive line coach under Stewart, Greg Johnson, had a major impact on the novice lineman. "We didn't have a grading system under Rich Rodriguez. When Stew took over coach Johnson's system and installed a grading system, it transformed me. We ran a zone scheme under Rodriguez. That only allows you to do so much. Coach Johnson was big on technique. He called it the SOC (Steps of Champions). He made sure the SOC was always right."
Capers finished his college gridiron days with a flurry of solid performances in 2009, prompting attention from NFL scouts.
"My senior season against Pittsburgh, I had a good game. The Backyard Brawl is always a big game. The talent I was playing against brought out the best in me. Defensive end Greg Romeus (New Orleans Saints draft choice) was a good player at Pitt. It was always fun playing against him. My pass protection technique was good."
Capers also recorded solid outings against Colorado, Syracuse and East Carolina, racking up a handful of pancake blocks.
Selected in the 7th round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, Capers faced a cold dose of reality. "It opened my eyes to the NFL," Selvish explained. "It turns into a business. Football is your job. You have a lot to lose."
Still, Capers said there were positives as a pro right off the bat in the nation's capital. "The O-line was very close. Number one draft pick Trent Williams was a new face to cling to, like me. The D.C. area was great. They are so supportive to the Redskins. If it hadn't been for Washington, I wouldn't have been picked. It was a big eye opener. You can be cut tomorrow."
In fact , the big tackle was eventually released following the 2011 preseason. "It was a shock. I thought that I'd be on the practice squad. I've never been cut before. I didn't know what it was like. You wind up leaving somewhere that you thought you would spend your career."
The mental body blow toughened the native New Orleanian and prepared him for the next step on the road to finding a home in the NFL. "I was naive. I realized that it was a business. It helped me understand how it all works. It helped me to keep pushing on."
Soon after his release, Selvish received a phone call from the Giants. It appeared to be an ideal fit. He understands that if you're a professional athlete in New York, the world is your oyster - especially when you earn a Super Bowl Ring. "I love New York. I've been invited to fashion shows," he explains with a hearty laugh, "But I've never been to Saturday Night Live yet. We've been in the New York Rangers locker room. You realize that you represent the city."
This past February's Super Bowl celebration parade showed Selvish how much the Giants mean to the fans.
"It was a great experience. The Super Bowl win didn't really hit me until the parade. People in office buildings, sky scrapers, everybody shredding paper. When New York wins, it's like New Orleans. Everyone feels like they've won. That parade really opened my eyes as to how much the fans love the Giants."
Capers sees a little of Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart in the make-up of Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. It's easy to understand why the G-men are so successful.
"He's cool," Capers said describing the drill sergeant demeanor of Coughlin. "With his military personality he expects perfection. He knows what he's doing. He's a good guy. He expects you to do things a certain way. As long as you're giving your all, that's what it's all about, 100 percent all the time."
Much like the 'Skins and other NFL teams, the ofensive line shares a close fraternity-like bond in New York. "The offensive line gets along very, very well. We click well together." Despite the competition, the vets help the younger players learn the ropes. Starting left guard and seven-year veteran, Kevin Boothe, has taken Selvish under his wing, even though the St. Aug product could eventually assume his position. "I try to learn from him. He willingly helps me out. It's a great organization."
The 325 pound mauler could be primed for a breakout season in 2012. "I want to compete in camp and make this team. I want to evolve into the player that I want to be, whatever it takes. I've always been physically set, I want to be mentally set."
Selvish knows the challenges at the NFL level, but understands that it's still the same game he's played as a youth.
"I have over-analyzed in the past, but I've calmed down," Capers explained. "Even though it's more complex, it's still football, similar to college. After a year I know the system better. I want to show the coaches that I can handle it."
The player that proudly wears jersey number 60 for the Giants wants to prove that he can help clear a path for the franchise to capture another Super Bowl title. Nothing would be better for Capers than to do just that in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in front of his hometown fans this coming February.
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