Tom Coughlin said this week that he and the Giants always saw the potential in Larry Donnell, liked his athleticism, and hoped he could develop into a pretty good tight end.
It turns out he wasn't the first coach to go down that path. That distinction belongs to Rod Broadway, Donnell's coach at Grambling State. It was Broadway who first suggested that the 6-5 freshman quarterback switch positions.
Well, "suggested" might be too loose of a word.
"I don't think there was any choice involved," Broadway chuckled at the lack of say that Donnell had in the situation. "He was more than willing to give it a shot and I'm sure he's glad he did because he wound up being a professional tight end."
That he's been for a few years, toiling on the Giants' practice squad in 2012 and as a seldom-used backup in 2013. It wasn't until this week against the Redskins that Broadway's and Coughlin's shared vision came to full bloom and Donnell became a star.
"We just thought he had a future at tight end," the current head coach at North Carolina A&T told Newsday on Friday, just hours after Donnell made his decision pay off with three touchdowns in a 45-14 win over Washington. "Potentially, we thought he could be a good one. He caught on pretty fast and did a great job for us."
Donnell the quarterback at Grambling State threw two passes as a freshman in 2007, completing one of them for a 51-yard touchdown. Late that season he was a tight end, putting his basketball skills from high school to work on the football field. He caught 32 passes in his sophomore and junior seasons, eight of them for touchdowns.
"We tried throwing some fades, tried to get him in different coverages," Broadway said. "It was very similar to what the Giants did the other night, actually."
Donnell was injured and played in only four games his senior year. He wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine (the Giants attended his pro day) and wasn't drafted. That was the same summer as the lockout, so few teams loaded up on undrafted free agents when the labor issues were settled just before the start of training camp. Donnell was not signed by anyone until the following March when the Giants, fresh off their Super Bowl victory, added him to their roster. He made the practice squad.
"We've always had [this kind of production] in the back of our minds because of his athleticism," Coughlin said. "Grooming him into being the all-purpose tight end, there's a lot of responsibilities there . . . There's a young, inexperienced player that's eager to learn and has athleticism, has speed, has outstanding hands, so we've always had a high level of expectation for this player and how he can develop. He's gotten started along those lines. There's a long way to go, but it doesn't change what we think this player can be."
What he is now is the team's leader in receptions (25) and touchdowns (four). And, in some eyes, the savior of the first part of the season. Victor Cruz said the turning point between the sluggish start to the year and the last two games wears number 84.
"I think it just was when Larry Donnell started getting going," he said. "I think when Larry Donnell started to come and catch the ball and make some plays for us, I think that is when things kind of shifted and things went in our way a little bit. It was definitely something that we needed to happen, someone to step up and make some big plays, and Larry Donnell has done that for us."
He's also the latest in a line of overlooked players who have emerged at the position for the Giants in recent years, following in the steps of fifth-round pick Kevin Boss and undrafted Jake Ballard. Both had productive stints with the Giants and were keys to winning Super Bowl titles.
Broadway hasn't stayed in close touch with Donnell since they both left Grambling. But he's been watching. And he was tuned in on Thursday. On Friday, he and his staff spent some time reminiscing about the decision to move Donnell from quarterback to tight end before North Carolina A&M faced Howard Saturday.
"It was a good move for us at the time," he said. "Hopefully it was a good move for Larry."
It sure seems like it now.