Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

SPORTS>>Going to Kansas City

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Robert Dacus says he knew from the time Weston Dacus was in fourth grade that he was going to play in the National Football League some day.

Maybe it was his son’s intensity or his single-mindedness. Maybe it was the fact he could be heard upstairs in his bedroom shouting at the TV during NFL highlights, or that he taped his ankles for Pee Wee games … just like the pros do. Or the fact that, even in high school, he would forgo a night with friends to watch and re-watch film from that weekend’s Searcy game.

“He’s been saying, ‘I’m going to play in the NFL’ since he was 10 years old,” Robert says.

So, yeah, there was reason to think he might just make it to the big time, especially after the Arkansas Razorback middle linebacker led his team in total tackles over the past two seasons.

It was a week ago Sunday that Robert began to have some doubts about Weston’s dream. Robert and Weston and the entire Dacus clan, along with a couple of Weston’s best friends, gathered at the house of Weston’s older brother, Joe, to watch the draft that weekend and to hopefully hear Weston’s name called. And, barring that, to hear Weston’s phone ring with a free agent offer from a team.

DISAPPOINTED DACUSES

Neither happened.

“We were all a little long-faced when we got in our cars to leave on Sunday,” Robert admits. “You could tell Weston was disappointed.”

Weston’s agent, Storm Kirschenbaum, told Robert that free agents weren’t in as big of demand this season with the demise of the European football league. In fact, free agent signings as of Sunday were somewhere around 100, down from 500 or more in previous seasons.

Still, Weston had just put on an impressive show at Pro Day in Fayetteville, a performance that moved him well up the charts for middle linebackers – from the mid-40s to as high as No. 12 in some rating services.

Robert says he was certain that if any NFL team got a look at his talented boy – the All-State running back from Searcy, the second-leading tackler for the Razorbacks in each of the past two seasons – he was a certainty to be drafted.

“I felt pretty much in my heart that if anybody put eyes on him, and he got to do his thing, he’d get his shot,” Robert says.

Weston finally got that chance last weekend, when he attended the Kansas City Chiefs minicamp, an event specifically designed forunsigned free agents to show their stuff.

And that’s what Weston did.

“I had one of the best practices I’ve ever had,” Weston says of Thursday’s camp, the first of three straight days of tryouts. “I didn’t want to talk too much about it at first, because I was afraid I might jinx myself. But I noticed the defensive coordinator giving me some pointers, and paying attention to me.”

What really got Weston’s hopes up, though, was when the coaches started calling him by his name and not his number.

HONORED AND PRIVILEGED

When they did finally call his number again, it was his cell phone. The call came less than 30 minutes after the camp ended on Saturday, as Weston was heading back to Fayetteville.

“‘How would you like to be a Kansas City Chief?’” Weston says he recalls the person on the other end asking. “I told them I’d be honored and privileged.”

On Monday afternoon, the 6-1, 237-pound Weston Dacus signed a two-year deal with the Chiefs – a team which didn’t draft a linebacker this season and which has a 7-year veteran at the middle linebacker spot. As of press time on Tuesday, no particulars of the contract had been worked out between Kirschenbaum and the Chiefs.

Even more impressive, Dacus was one of only three players from the Chiefs’ minicamp to receive a free agent contract.

The deal concluded a fairly tumultuous ride for the Dacuses after several teams, including Indianapolis, New England and the New York Jets, among others, had flirted with Weston over the previous months.

“Indianapolis called the Sunday night of the draft,” Robert says. “They told us that Weston would be the very next free agent to be offered, but the roster was full. Storm told them they better do something because he’s fixing to go to Kansas City.”

Robert says as many as nine or 10 teams were high on Weston and he says Houston Nutt told him an additional five or six teams were calling him asking about Weston.

Storm Kirschenbaum says he started paying attention to Weston in his junior season, but he didn’t actually go watch him play until this year’s Cotton Bowl. It was there he became aware of Weston’s potential.

‘I HAD NO IDEA’

“He called me on my cell phone at the game and said, ‘I need to talk to you,’” Robert recalls. “He said, ‘I had no idea how fast he was.’”

At that point, the Dacuses were still very much undecided on an agent, though they had been in contact with Kirschenbaum for the past month or so. Robert, Weston, and Kirschenbaum sat down to discuss Weston’s future.

“I thought Weston might be more comfortable talking to Storm alone so [Robert’s wife] Nancy and I left after about an hour,” Robert says. “When we came back in the room, Weston was saying, ‘Where do I sign?’

“I said, ‘Whoa!’ and Weston said, ‘Dad, this is the guy. He’s straightforward and truthful.’”

That admiration is mutual. Kirschenbaum, who works for Metis Sports Management out of Detroit, says he fell in love with Weston almost immediately.

“It feels like I’ve known him [a long time],” Kirschenbaum says. “I fell in love with the entire family. When you’ve had a little experience in this industry, you get vibes from kids, and Weston’s personality fits the mold of an NFL linebacker. I could see him making an impact on special teams right away.”

And Kirschenbaum doesn’t stop there.

“I see him becoming a mainstay at Kansas City. I could see him as a Pro Bowl player one day.”

Robert says Kirschenbaum stressed Weston’s character to the NFL teams he contacted.

“He was telling them this is the kind of kid you want on your team,” Robert says. “He’s never going to loaf, never going to get in trouble, never going to quit on you. He’s all about football.”

Though Weston started two years at middle linebacker for a Razorback team that reached as high as No. 4 in the nation in 2006, his ranking in the draft languished around 40 or lower as Draft Day neared. But his agent had sent him to a training camp in Nashville to work on various aspects of his game … and it paid off.

MOVING UP

At Pro Day in Fayetteville on March 28, Weston improved his 40-yard-dash time to 4.58, his vertical leap to 37 ½ inches, and his broad jump to 10 feet, 2 inches. His shuttle drill time was the fastest in the nation among middle linebackers. Robert says the Nashville camp was “a lot of money well spent.”

That Pro Day showing quickly moved Weston up the charts of middle linebacker draft prospects, but Kirschenbaum said the timing couldn’t have been worse, that it was difficult to get Weston much exposure.

It also didn’t help that the demand for linebackers was not particularly high in this year’s draft.

“My feeling initially was that Weston wouldn’t get drafted and that he would sign a free agent deal,” Robert says. “But when he started moving up on the ratings on the Internet, people were predicting the sixth or seventh round.”

Which was why when Sunday came and went, Robert was left feeling puzzled and concerned. Robert says Nancy called Weston later that evening and told him that everything happens for a reason, that this was not over by a long shot.

After Weston got word from the Chiefs on Sunday that they wanted him on the team, he called Nancy to confirm her earlier sentiments.

“He told her, ‘Nancy, you were right,’” Robert says. “’There’s no better place for me to be than Kansas City. This is where I need to be.’”

Now, Robert and company will be heading to Kansas City on Sundays. The Searcy optometrist had grown used to taking off Fridays in the fall the past four years to watch Weston and the Razorbacks play each weekend.

“Now, instead of Fridays, I’ll be taking Mondays off,” he said. “We’re going to go watch our son play in the NFL.”