Teddy Bridgewater's pre-draft experience has not been an easy one, and he admits there are times when the scrutiny gets the best of him.
Once considered the top quarterback in the draft and a likely choice to be the No. 1 overall pick of the Texans, Bridgewater's stock has fallen amid a seemingly daily dose of criticism from many draft experts and NFL executives.
"I hear the things that are said about me, and I read about them,'' the former Louisville star said. "I'm human, so of course I can say that I block it out. But there's that .1 of 1 percent when I read it that it bothers me. But it doesn't get me down. It adds fuel to the fire. My mind-set is that I'm going to prove these guys wrong, play with that chip on my shoulder.''
Bridgewater's situation isn't much different from other top players whose prospects take a downward turn before the draft. But when Bridgewater made a decision in January to hire former Jets defensive back Abe Elam as an adviser, he found an ally to help him prepare not only for the draft, but for the entire NFL experience. And their unique bond might one day help other players make the challenging transition to the pros.
Elam may have found a niche that addresses issues that often fall through the cracks. Once a player is finished with his college career, he faces a major set of life decisions -- choosing an agent, finding a place to train for the scouting combine, selecting a financial planner.
"It's helped out a lot, being that [Elam] is someone who has played in the NFL and had a long career,'' Bridgewater said. "He's been helpful in just advising me, giving me an overview of what to look for in an agent, in a financial adviser. I think other guys would really benefit with having a guy like Abe. Just advising me with everything he went through to share that knowledge is very helpful.''
It is an unlikely journey for the 32-year-old Elam. Had it not been for his own experience of being mentored by Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells and former Giants running back Tucker Frederickson, Elam might have been just another talented young athlete who never got a chance to live his dream.
Instead, he became an example of perseverance who is looking to give back to young players by offering the two things he knows best: trust and experience.
"I've made the mistakes in my life so I can show other guys that they don't have to,'' said Elam, who played with the Cowboys, Jets, Browns and Chiefs in a career that lasted from 2006-12. "My whole thing with working with these guys is to empower them, to take control of their own situation, to be the CEO of their own business. You see a lot of situations where guys go broke when they rely on others and are oblivious to what's going on.''
Elam endured a rough upbringing in Riviera Beach, Fla., losing two brothers and a younger sister, all of whom were murdered.
"There were some hard times growing up,'' Elam said. "But being able to make it out has been my testimonial and my story, that regardless of how things are around you, you can still prosper and be successful."
Elam was a football and basketball star at Cardinal Newman, a Catholic high school where he had earned a scholarship. A football scholarship to Notre Dame was next, and it looked as if Elam was on his way.
But as a sophomore in 2002, a 20-year-old female student accused Elam and three Notre Dame teammates of rape. School officials eventually expelled all four players.
Elam, who wasn't charged with rape and maintains his innocence but declined to discuss details of the incident, was convicted of sexual battery and placed on probation for two years. He was acquitted of the more serious charges of criminal deviate conduct and conspiracy to commit rape. Elam's former teammates, who were charged with rape, were not convicted. Elam still must continue to register as a sex offender in Florida as part of his original plea deal. He said he is attempting to work with the courts to remove that stipulation.
Elam appeared to be at a dead end after leaving Notre Dame, until he met up with Frederickson, the Giants' No. 1 overall pick in 1965 and a prominent real estate developer in South Florida.
"I didn't know him, but I knew of him,'' Fredrickson said. "He was probably the best athlete to come out of here, maybe ever. I'd heard the story that he got in trouble at Notre Dame, and got some bad advice and the system got him big-time.
"I just basically called him up and said, 'Hey, you want to have lunch?' My son had a scholarship at Kent State, and I called the coach, Dean Pees, who's now with the Ravens,'' Frederickson said. "I told Dean, 'Look, it's going to be a little controversial and you're going to be taking a chance, but he's an athlete. I'm telling you. Dean went out on a limb for him.''
But when it came time for the draft, Elam was not selected.
"I called around the league a little bit, and everyone said, 'Felon, felon, felon. Nobody wants a felon,' '' Frederickson said. "He was cutting grass at a golf club for $8 an hour, working out, not giving up, and then we all worked the phones.''
A call from Frederickson to Parcells, then the Cowboys' coach, turned into Elam's opportunity. He made the team in 2006, starting a career that lasted seven seasons.
"I know his family life was very difficult, and he came from a tough, hard background, but he's a very bright, good-hearted, well-meaning human being,'' Parcells said.
It was Parcells who urged Elam to find a role in helping other players. That included Elam's younger brother, Matt, a safety and a first-round pick for Baltimore last season. Parcells saw how Elam interacted with players at Matt's high school -- William T. Dwyer in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida -- and suggested it was a good idea to pursue. The school isn't far from where Parcells lives in Jupiter, Florida, and the former coach regularly visits with the team.
"So now he's helping some of these [college] players, and he's like a guidance counselor of the very best nature for these kids," Parcells said. "He's doing things that, in my opinion, are with very, very good, honorable intentions.''
Elam, who is not a licensed sports agent, envisions his program -- which he calls the Elam Model -- can help other players through a challenging time in their careers. He also works with former Auburn running back Tre Mason, and mentored his brother Matt Elam during his transition into the NFL. With Abe's help, Matt negotiated his own rookie contract last year, saving more than $200,000 in agent fees.
Bridgewater is paying heed to the lessons Elam has imparted; the former safety has helped Bridgewater choose an agent (Kennard McGuire), set up a financial planning program and get through the sometimes turbulent pre-draft process. Despite the criticism of recent weeks, which stemmed mostly from a poor performance at his Louisville Pro Day, Bridgewater looks to the future with promise and a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish.
"I'm all about preparing to do the one thing I love, and that's play football,'' Bridgewater said. "So, if I'm the last pick or the first pick, if I have to play in a parking lot or someone else's backyard -- as long as I can suit up and continue to play, that's all that matters.''