Anthony Averett had to practice patience after graduating from Woodbury, where he was a quarterback and Inquirer first-team all-South Jersey defensive back,
He needed to wait until his fourth year at Alabama to get regular time at the college football powerhouse. Averett ended up starting two seasons and then had to wait an extra day – no small matter – to hear his name called in the NFL draft.
Through it all, Averett persevered, and now he’s on to his next destination after being selected in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens.
Averett enjoyed one of the more incredible college careers among South Jersey products, starting in two national-championship games and winning one. In addition, as a redshirt sophomore he was a deep reserve on Alabama’s 2015 national-championship team.
While many top players would have departed after playing sparingly in his first three years on campus, Averett stuck it out.
“It was very difficult. One of the earliest adversities I had was not playing,” he said earlier this week by phone. “A lot of people can’t handle it.”
Averett did handle it, with plenty of help.
“I was strong and have a strong family background and a great support system and I trusted the process and kept going and kept working hard,” he said. “Look what happened.”
First off, he ended his career as a champion when Alabama beat fellow SEC team Georgia, 26-23, in a riveting national-title game. Averett had six tackles, two for losses including a sack, and a pass defended.
“I was able to make a few plays, and I am thankful for the opportunity to play in a game like that,” he said. “It was a crazy atmosphere.”
Sort of like the NFL draft.
Averett was hoping realistically to be a second-day choice, when the second and third rounds take place. Instead, he went on the third day, the 18th player selected in the fourth round and the 118th overall. The waiting made him feel like he felt in his early years at Alabama.
“I was definitely expecting to go Day 2,” he said. “It was tough.”
And of course, it will provide the proverbial chip on his shoulder, with Averett out to prove he should have been drafted higher. He was with his family in New Jersey watching the draft, and when his name was called, it was a moment that Averett will never forget.
“I got emotional,” said Averett, whose uncle, Bryant McKinney, was a Pro Bowl tackle with the Minnesota Vikings and also played for the Ravens.
He was drafted to play cornerback, a position he never played much until he got to Alabama. At Woodbury, he was primarily a safety.
Yet Averett has the athletic ability to play one of the toughest positions in all of sports. At the NFL combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds and had a vertical jump of 31.5 inches. Measured at 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, Averett even bench-pressed 225 pounds 13 times.
What will help is that he played for some outstanding coaches, including Zack Valentine at Woodbury, who spent three seasons as a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers and one with the Eagles.
“Coach Valentine has been a mentor to me,” Averett said.
And Averett got to play for Nick Saban, who has won six national championships as a head coach: five at Alabama and one at LSU.
“I learned pretty much everything from Coach Saban,” Averett said. “I didn’t play much corner in high school, and he taught me everything from the ground up.”
This weekend, Averett will be participating in a rookie mini-camp with the Ravens. He says when he meets Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, he’ll swap Colonial Conference stories with him. Flacco starred at Audubon.
“I will let him know I never lost to Audubon,” Averett said, laughing.
Most of all, he is excited about beginning the next phase. Averett earned a degree in exercise science from Alabama, so he did much more than just develop as a football player.
All the adversity he went through, sitting behind a long list of All-Americans before finally getting his chance, provided Averett with a tough exterior and the confidence to know that good things come to those who are patient and are willing to work instead of sulk.