At an informal lunch with Phoenix-area sports media last week, new Arizona State football coach Todd Graham talked about the importance of dealing with the media.
He spoke of using the media as a free resource for his program. He joked that he wouldn't recruit players that wouldn't or couldn't speak to the media.
Of course, as someone who follows the ASU football program very closely, the first thought that popped in my head was 'he's taking a jab at Vontaze Burfict'.
Burfict, the most highly-rated recruit ever to don a Sun Devil football uniform, famously avoided media responsibility during his career despite being one of the best and most scrutinized players on the roster. Burfict did speak at ASU Media Day in his freshman season and after a couple of fall practices. After that, nothing.
Nothing after the good performances, like his 3-sack game against UC Davis. And nothing after his not-so-good performances, like getting benched in the 2nd half of a loss to Cal last November. Just nothing.
While Graham was sharing his media strategy, Burfict was preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine, which includes interview sessions with media as well as team executives. You know, the guys who could potentially make Burfict a millionaire if they liked what they saw and heard. It's not exactly the situation that you want to go into with a severe lack of experience.
But Burfict did, and judging from his comments in Indy, it showed.
"I could've played better. That's what hurt me at times," Burfict said during an interview at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "The coaches kind of messed me up. I didn't know if I would start a game or be benched. It hurt me, but I tried to fight through it."
I'll take 'Things You're Not Supposed To Say at the NFL Scouting Combine' for one-thousand, Alex.
Whether he believes that or not, Burfict made the critical error of not accepting responsibility for his own lackluster campaign. Most coaches wouldn't have allowed Burfict on the field after his seemingly never-ending string of bonehead personal foul penalties -- many that crippled the Sun Devils' chances of winning games. But he wasn't done.
Burfict also went into detail about his training camp spat with ASU receiver Kevin Ozier, and didn't exactly put people's minds at ease with his explanation.
"We had an argument, and we brought it into the locker room. We started chattering about it. He started rough- housing me," he said. "He pushed me, and my first instinct was to swing. And everyone thinks I'm the bad guy because my first instinct was to swing on the guy."
That's what general managers and personnel execs want to hear. That you're a guy with a hair-trigger temper whose first instinct is to bash your co-worker's face in when things get difficult.
The whole point of college is to prepare an individual for life in his or her chosen professional field. For Vontaze Burfict, that path clearly pointed to football from the day he stepped foot on campus in 2009. Part of your professional duties as a football player is interacting with the media. So why wouldn't you be more eager to do so if you were, at one time, a hot draft prospect?
Burfict failed to soak up as much future employment training as he could have while on Arizona State's campus. And unless he wows the NFL's decision makers with his on- the-field showing in Indianapolis, he likely hurt his own draft stock and cost himself some cash by going into the Combine blind.