INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie chats with his cousin, Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie. Leodis McKelvin talks with another Pro Bowler, former teammate DeMarcus Ware.
The big-time isn't far away for these two cornerbacks from small schools.
Rodgers-Cromartie and McKelvin are the reasons Tennessee State and Troy could be called out early in April's NFL draft along with the likes of Southern Cal and LSU.
Troy, where McKelvin starred, is at least in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A. Tennessee State is in the Football Championship Subdivision (the old Division I-AA).
Rodgers-Cromartie is 6-foot-2 and the reigning Ohio Valley Conference indoor track champion in the 60-yard dash, long jump and high jump. That helps explain why he could be picked before anybody from a slightly better-known football program in the same state, the University of Tennessee.
Tennessee State was the only college to recruit Rodgers-Cromartie after he attended four high schools in four years. He started at a public school in Atlanta. Then his father decided to send him to a private school for 10th grade. But when that institution stopped offering scholarships, he was back to a public school. As a senior, he moved to live with his mother in Bradenton, Fla.
His father kept telling him he had a cousin who played at Florida State, but Rodgers-Cromartie never thought much of it until he got to know Antonio Cromartie in the past year. The second-year San Diego Chargers cornerback led the NFL with 10 interceptions this past season.
Rodgers-Cromartie had another connection to cornerback greatness through his father. One of his dad's friends knew future Hall-of-Famer Darrell Green, who invited Rodgers-Cromartie to work out with him this past summer.
Green taught him how to come out of his break faster. ``Basically he changed my whole style of game,'' Rodgers-Cromartie said Sunday at the NFL scouting combine.
Because he played against lower-level competition, Rodgers-Cromartie knows events like the combine are probably more important for him than other players.
``I kind of feel like I've got to be three out of three: the Senior Bowl, here, then at my Pro Day,'' he said. ``I've just got to go out and put up basically incredible numbers to even get an opportunity to go high in the draft.''
NFL teams already seem to know a lot about him. They keep asking about the fact he had one kidney removed as a newborn because it wasn't functioning. Doctors have always cleared him to play sports, Rodgers-Cromartie said, and he's never had any health problems.
What could attract NFL clubs to Rodgers-Cromartie and McKelvin beyond their cornerback abilities is their special teams skills. Rodgers-Cromartie averaged 24.4 yards on kickoff returns. McKelvin averaged 23.2 yards, as well as 17.4 yards on punt returns. McKelvin said he hopes to make the kind of impact on special teams as a rookie that Devin Hester did.
With McKelvin, NFL teams have the opportunity to watch game film and see him against elite competition. Troy faced Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma State and Georgia this past season.
Scouts also know that players from the school have thrived in the league in recent years.
``We had two this year win the Super Bowl; we had two in the Pro Bowl,'' McKelvin said proudly.
There's nothing more big-time than what Troy alums did this past season: Defensive end Osi Umenyiora and kicker Lawrence Tynes shined for the world champion New York Giants, while Umenyiora and Ware, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker, were honored as two of the NFC's top players.

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