TU’s Pipkin and Washington add to NFL hype

The day former NFL wide receiver and two time Super Bowl champion Nate Washington finally walked across Tiffin University’s stage to receive his degree, the Dragons’ senior quarterback Antonio “Pip” Pipkin was signed to the Arizona Cardinals. What a day for Tiffin University and the Dragons football and athletics program.

Nate played 11 years in the NFL before the opportunity presented itself to finish his degree online and make it official that he is a college graduate. Living in Nashville, he is giving back to the community through his 85th Foundation (his jersey number), which provides turkeys to the homeless at Thanksgiving and educational programs and clinics for at-risk youths year round.

If Pipkin makes it in the NFL — WHEN he makes it in the NFL — he likely is to start a foundation as well, because anyone who knows Pip knows he’s a giver and a doer. Antonio doesn’t take short cuts, he isn’t one to completely bring attention to himself, and he is laser-focused on goals. In his first-year seminar course at TU, he came across as just another young face, occasionally late to class, sliding to the side or back of the room, but always finishing his assignments. Many forget he started out playing basketball and football for the Dragons before focusing on the latter. By his senior year, he still was occasionally late to class, but he sat in the front row, confidently contributed to discussions, and continued his early habits of always submitting assignments.

When pressed to discuss his future, Pipkin would describe his intentions to play in the NFL, but also conceded to having a backup plan if God, hard work, and talent didn’t bring him to where he is today, about to attend rookie camp for the Cardinals. Instead of walking with Nate Washington and his classmates at graduation, the recent senior from Gary, Indiana was with his family, waiting on that life-changing phone call from his agent — and it happened fairly quickly at the conclusion of the 2017 Draft Saturday afternoon.

Ten quarterbacks were drafted over the weekend, and it was within hours of the last pick that Antonio Pipkin was signed by the Cardinals, along with another undrafted free agent quarterback, out of Texas A&M (Trevor Knight). With all 32 clubs having a pick in seven selection rounds, there were 224 spots in the 2017 draft, which kicked off when the Browns selected Myles Garrett, a defensive end from Texas Tech, as the No. 1 draft pick. Whether Myles and the rest of the talent selected by the Browns can provide the spark for second-year coach Hue Jackson to make a dent in the win column next season remains questionable.

Here is an interesting bit of history about the Draft: In 1972, Atlanta’s coach, Norm Van Brocklin, announced the Falcons were drafting John Wayne of Fort Apache State. The actor actually did play college ball at USC, but the NFL Commissioner didn’t permit the selection to transpire and the beloved gun-slinging, whisky-drinking, fearless renegade of the wild west remained a product of the big screen instead of the gridiron.

Another interesting historical fact of the draft is that a few players actually have exercised their right of refusal to accept their team selection. Jim Kelly, Eli Manning, John Elway and Bo Jackson were notable holdouts who refused to sign with the team that drafted them, but obviously went on to remarkable NFL careers.

Most drafted players make it to a team’s final 53-man roster when the NFL season officially opens. Right now, Pipkin has at least made it to the Cardinals 90-man off-season squad-list and will hopefully survive a few roster cuts after grinding it out alongside of Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, and other great players for Arizona. Ready to attack his rookie training with the grit of a warrior and the fire of a Dragon, it doesn’t hurt to know that Tony Romo, Warren Moon and Kurt Warner were also undrafted free agent quarterbacks who went on to NFL greatness.

It’s way to early to speculate on the future success of Pipkin in the NFL, but one person in his corner is George Whitfield. another supportive TU alum. The quarterback trainer and one of the hosts of ESPN’s College GameDay (as long as he isn’t among the 100-plus employees laid off by the sports media company last week) has provided Pipkin plenty of tutelage in the past year. Whitfield has trained a number of quarterbacks who made the NFL such as Jameis Winston, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and even Johnny (Uh-oh) Manziel.

Another TU alumni and a product of Columbian High School with a connection to the NFL is Jamie Moore. Moore has worked as as a scout for the Indianapolis Colts since the 2006-07 season and lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where he focuses on talent in the southeast territory.

According to Tiffin University’s athletic website, three other Dragon alumni have received invitations in the past two years to NFL rookie camps, including Marcus Beaurem (Detroit Lions), Brandon Person (Cardinals), and Willie Mays III (Green Bay Packers).

Jaguars running back Chris Ivory, Whitfield, Washington and Moore each have made a special mark in the NFL, and now Pipkin has the opportunity to continue the tradition. In the meantime, stay tuned next month for more interesting and fascinating sports stories from around the world, around the nation, around the state, and right here in Tiffin, Ohio.

Bonnie Tiell is a professor of sports management at Tiffin University.