He left Indianapolis several days later with an arrow pointing up next to his name.
Approaching the combine as if it was his personal ‘‘American Idol,’’ Molden’s performances in the physical and agility tests were strong enough to impress scouts with a Simon Cowell-like outlook. Molden, a former Warren G. Harding student/athlete, was the only cornerback to rank among the top five percent in all drills, which included a 40 time of 4.39 seconds.
In the matter of days, Molden went from being considered a late-round selection, or possibly an undrafted free agent, to a possible first-day pick. According to nfldraftscout.com, Molden, who played three seasons at Eastern Kentucky University, is currently ranked 14th among 239 cornerbacks. He’s projected as a fourth-round pick, although the upward-pointed arrow indicates he could move up higher.
‘‘That’s one opportunity you don’t get in life,’’ Molden said of the combine experience. ‘‘When you get it, you have to take advantage of it. I was well prepared. I was happy with my performance. Right now I’m hearing second or third (round).’’
Molden, who’s considered a big cornerback at 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds, exhibited his strength at the combine when he bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times (more than some offensive linemen). Add to his 40 time and bench press showing an incredible 37.5 vertical leap and a 10-9 broad jump, and it’s evident why his stock is on the rise.
At least 10 NFL teams have contacted Molden to line up interviews. The Cleveland Browns, who don’t have a selection until the fourth round, were the first to visit with Molden after the combine. The meeting was easy to arrange because Molden lives in Cleveland.
The Browns have geared most of their offseason to strengthening the defense, with an emphasis on the line and linebackers. However, a need at cornerback surfaced when Leigh Bodden, a starter last season, was sent to the Detroit Lions in a trade that sent defensive lineman Shaun Rogers to Cleveland.
‘‘Every single interview with them was great,’’ said Molden, who visited with Baltimore Ravens officials last Thursday.
The number of Browns executives Molden met with indicates the team has a strong interest. He interviewed with general manager Phil Savage, coach Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, special teams coach Ted Daisher and Lew Merletti, senior vice-president.
Merletti, formerly the director of the Secret Service, is responsible for doing background checks on prospective draft picks. It’s never a bad sign when Merletti is involved in the interview process.
As much as Molden would like to play for the Browns, he hopes it doesn’t happen. That would mean that he wouldn’t have reached his goal of being picked in the first three rounds.
‘‘God willing I will be off the board before then,’’ he said.
Molden has followed a long, winding road to be where he’s at today in his life. After playing for Harding in his senior season of 2002, he transferred to Cleveland Glenville High School to finish the school year and compete on Glenville’s nationally-renowned track and field team. He ran on three relay teams with Ted Ginn Jr., Troy Cloud and Roland Sweet that set national records.
Rob Andrews, who was an assistant football coach at Harding, was instrumental in leading Molden to Glenville. Andrews left Harding to serve as an assistant coach on coach Ted Ginn Sr.’s perennially strong football team.
Andrews, who is helping to train Molden, felt it was important for Molden to be challenged by Glenville’s elite athletes.
‘‘At Glenville if you get beat it’s acceptable. It wasn’t acceptable to him,’’ Andrews said. ‘‘We had guys that were flying by him. He fought like crazy to get back to the pack. He knew where he stood. He knew he was bigger and stronger, but he wasn’t as fast. But he had great speed.’’
Molden, who was raised in Warren by his grandmother, Bernice Molden, didn’t leave Harding with ill feelings. He enjoyed playing defensive back and receiver for then-coach Thom McDaniels. It was just that he felt he needed to be challenged by what Glenville had to offer.
‘‘Thom McDaniels and his staff were great. I respect them,’’ Antwaun said. ‘‘It was a great experience, but I left because I thought it would be more beneficial to me.
‘‘I feel like by leaving there I made a big step in my life. It was an opportunity, and I wanted to take advantage of it. Cleveland Glenville is a great program. They have great athletes to be around.’’
McDaniels, who’s now coaching at Massillon Jackson High School, isn’t surprised that Antwaun is on the verge of being a NFL draft choice.
‘‘He had great skills and really impressive speed,’’ McDaniels said. ‘‘He was a very gifted athlete on a very good team. He was one of many we had — Michael Phillips, Prescott Burgess, Mike Kokal and all those guys.’’
Phillips, a cornerback and quarterback in high school, went on to play defensive back at the University of Pittsburgh. A star and team leader, Phillips was known more than Antwaun at the time.
‘‘The thing I remember about him (Antwaun) is that he was a hard worker,’’ said current Harding coach D.J. Dota, who was the defensive coordinator for McDaniels. ‘‘He stayed focused on what he wanted to do. He expected a lot from himself. He doesn’t want to fail.’’
Antwaun attended the University of Toledo in 2003 but was relegated to the scout team because of Proposition 16, which requires potential NCAA Division I student/athletes to attain a pre-determined ACT or SAT score based on their grade-point averages in core curriculum classes. Because the grades Antwaun took with him from Harding to Glenville were below average, he wouldn’t have been able to score high enough on the ACT to receive a scholarship.
Antwaun played for the Rockets primarily on special teams in 2004, but his academic problems prohibited participation in spring practices in 2004 and 2005. That’s when he remembered how aggressive EKU was in its recruiting of him. With his grandmother unable to handle the costs of tuition at Toledo, Antwaun was accepted by EKU as a transfer.
‘‘Because of the situation in high school, it was a snowball effect,’’ he said. ‘‘Eastern Kentucky said they would put me on scholarship as soon as I got there.’’
Antwaun didn’t move into the starting lineup for the Colonels until last season. In 2005 he played in 11 games and recorded 37 tackles, one interception and one pass defensed. The following season he appeared in 10 games and finished with 36 tackles and one pass defensed.
It all began to come together last season when he recorded 70 tackles (43 solos) as a starter in every game. He intercepted two passes, recovered one fumble and defensed nine passes as the Colonels won the Ohio Valley Conference championship.
If Antwaun hadn’t broken a bone in his hand and played with a cast for seven weeks, he feels his statistics last season would have been better. The injury, however, was the least of his concerns. On Nov. 14 of last year he said goodbye to his fiance, Joi Smith, who died at age 21 from a rare form of muscular cancer.
‘‘It was a tough season, not on the field but off the field,’’ he said. ‘‘I had to deal with a lot of tragedies.’’
Antwaun relied in his religious faith to help him through the difficult times. After the season ended, he was able to regroup and set his sights on the next stage of his life.
That began with an impressive showing during practices for the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star game in January. According to Chad Reuter of nfldraftscout.com, Antwaun ‘‘played physically and showed that he could turn and run with receivers.’’
As well as Antwaun has progressed, he’s not considered the best cornerback prospect coming out of the OVC. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of Tennessee State is ranked third overall by nfldraftscout.com and is projected as a first-round pick.
Antwaun has a different take on which OVC prospect is better.
‘‘The film doesn’t lie,’’ he said. ‘‘Cromartie is a great athlete, but if you watch the film you can determine who’s the better athlete. I can’t say that myself because I’m basically biased because I think it’s me.’’
Antwaun gave Cromartie his due when saying, ‘‘he and I battled for the number one spot, and he came out on top.’’
Antwaun has plenty of time to show that the arrow is pointing in the right direction.
Courtesy Eastern Kentucky University
Antwaun Molden began high school at Warren G. Harding and finished at Cleveland Glenville. He then began college at the University of Toledo before finding a home at Eastern Kentucky University.