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October 8, 2008

Prioleau proving NFL longevity can be attained

By: Jimmy Robertson

Pierson Prioleau Courtesy of Jacksonvile Jaguars

It’s seems odd referring to Pierson Prioleau as an old man – after all, he just turned 31 years old.

But he stands as the oldest and longest-tenured of all the former Hokies actively playing in the NFL these days.

Prioleau, a former cornerback, rover and All-American here at Tech, continues to find a way of playing the game he loves in the best league in the world. After his contract with the Washington Redskins expired last season, he thought about hanging up his uniform and dreams for the last time. But the Jacksonville Jaguars hired former Washington defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and Williams talked Jags officials into bringing Prioleau aboard as a reserve safety and a special teams participant.

“My contract was up with Washington, so I was feeling around my options,” Prioleau said. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could be a leader on and off the field. Coach Williams convinced me to come down and it’s been good so far.”

Prioleau thus is participating in his 10th season in the NFL, and the Jaguars mark his fourth team. He played two seasons in San Francisco after the 49ers drafted him in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft and started 11 games in those two years. He signed with Buffalo in 2001 – and has played for Williams every year but one since then. Williams served as the head coach in Buffalo, and after getting fired from there, he signed on with the Redskins to work under Joe Gibbs. Prioleau spent four seasons in Buffalo and three seasons in Washington.

So how does a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder survive in the NFL after all those years? It’s simple – by listening.

“First of all, I have to thank God because I’ve only had one serious injury (a torn ACL suffered with Washington on the opening kickoff of the 2006 season),” Prioleau said. “But when I got drafted by San Francisco, I was fortunate because we had a lot of older guys there – guys like Jerry Rice and Steve Young and Merton Hanks. They told me how to take care of my body and I listened to them.

“There was another guy there – Tim McDonald. He was a safety and he was at the tail end of his career. He really taught me a lot. As a younger guy, you tend to take things for granted. But he taught me a lot about the game and how to approach the game and how to take care of myself. He played as an older guy and he played effectively. That always stuck with me.”

Prioleau has enjoyed a nice career in football. He arrived at Tech as a little known recruit from the low country of South Carolina (near Charleston) and became an All-American his junior season. He then got drafted following his senior season and has spent the past decade in the NFL.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “I can’t say I’m surprised. I knew it would be tough, but I’ve never taken anything for granted. It’s hard to have longevity in the NFL. I never take any day in the NFL for granted.”

In the offseason, Prioleau is never far from Blacksburg. He makes his offseason home in Radford, where his wife grew up. The two of them have two boys and they used to live near the Pete Dye River Course. But they recently sold that house and are currently building a residence on a rural piece of property not far from Radford.

“This is the first year I’ve been away from them,” Prioleau said of his family. “But my son was starting kindergarten and I didn’t want to move him, and we’re building a house, so it’s good that my wife is up there and can handle all that.

“Plus, I only signed a one-year contract here. I’m not sure where my career is headed after this year. So I didn’t want to move my family down here and then have to maybe move again. But I’m able to catch up with them on weekends. After this season, we’ll just have to see what happens.”

Prioleau hopes to get into coaching after his playing career ends. He already volunteers at local high schools, and coaching would allow him to remain in the game.

“I think there could be an opportunity on this level [the NFL],” he said. “My boy, [Anthony] Midget, got that job at Georgia State, and I told him I wish I had known. I would have shut it down and gone to grad school there to help him out.

“I’m always teasing Coach Cav [Jim Cavanaugh], too, to give me a heads up on when he’s going to retire. I’ll just move right on in. It would be a dream job to be at Tech. Tech is a big part of the reason why I’m where I’m at today.”

For now, though, he’s focusing on his role with the Jaguars and helping them to snag a playoff berth. Prioleau has participated in the playoffs on two occasions – both with the Redskins – but he never has played beyond the second round. The Jaguars field a good team and stand as a sleeper pick in the difficult AFC, so he may get a shot to go deep into the playoffs.

And if this were to be his last year, it would be a fitting end if he could do so.

“That’s probably the one part of my career I’m missing out on,” he said. “We went twice in Washington and that was a lot of fun. But now maybe I’ll get to experience something a little bigger. That would be great.”

HOKIES IN THE PROS (As of Oct. 6th) (Excluding Will Montgomery (who was cut by the Jets on Sept. 25th) and Michael Vick (NFL suspension), Virginia Tech has 30 players currently working in the NFL.)

Arizona Cardinals

25 Eric Green – The former Tech cornerback, now in his fourth season in Arizona, has started every game for the Cardinals. He has 15 tackles (14 solo), and an interception, the second of his career. A year ago, he started 11 games for the Cardinals and finished with 51 tackles (47 solo). He did not intercept a pass the entire season.

Baltimore Ravens

Justin Harper – Harper, a seventh-round pick of the Ravens, stuck with Baltimore throughout training camp, but was dropped during the last series of cuts before opening day. Still, he signed with the Ravens’ practice squad and probably will spend the season there.

Buffalo Bills

93 Chris Ellis – Ellis, whom the Bills took in the third round of April’s NFL Draft, went into this season as a back-up at the end spots. But he has not been activated for any of the team’s games yet.

Carolina Panthers

50 James Anderson – Anderson went into his third season with the Panthers as a back-up at the weakside linebacker spot. So far this season, he has not been activated for any of the Panthers’ games.

87 Jeff King – King serves as the starter at tight end for the Panthers, but has gotten off to a bit of a slow start. He has just eight catches for 72 yards, an average of 9.0 yards per catch. A year ago, he started all 16 games, catching 46 passes for 406 yards and two touchdowns.

Chicago Bears

34 Kevin Jones – After spending four injury-plagued years with the Lions, Kevin Jones signed with the Bears in the offseason. Coming off a season in which he tore a ligament in his knee late in the year, Jones rushed for 107 yards on 30 carries in the first five games to rank second on the team.

Cincinnati Bengals

17 Shayne Graham – Graham made nine of his first 10 field-goal attempts to start the season for the Bengals, with a long of 45 yards, and all of his five extra-point attempts. A year ago, he made 31 of 34 field-goal attempts, with a long of 48, and all 37 of his extra-point attempts.

Cleveland Browns

27 Nick Sorensen – Sorensen, entering his eighth NFL season, participates mostly on special teams for the Browns, while also serving as a back-up at the safety spots. He had four tackles (two solo) and a half of a sack in the first four games. He played in nine games last season, registering 13 tackles (11 solo) – all on special teams.

Denver Broncos

60 John Engelberger – Engelberger, a former defensive lineman at Tech, starts for the Broncos at end and had 15 tackles (14 solo) and a sack after the first five games of this season. He started 15 of 16 games last season, recording 41 tackles, including 30 solo stops, and he had one sack.

75 Carlton Powell – The Broncos took the former Tech defensive tackle in the fifth round of this past April’s NFL Draft, but he won’t be playing this season. Powell tore his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout and will miss the entire season.

19 Eddie Royal – Royal is the leading contender for rookie of the year honors after getting off to a blazing start. The former Tech wide receiver, a second-round pick of the Broncos, started the first five games and caught 30 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also returned eight punts for an average of 14.3 yards per return and rushed three times for 15 yards. And he returned one kickoff for 11 yards.

Green Bay Packers

37 Aaron Rouse – Rouse moved into the starting role at free safety after two games and has been making the most of it. Through four games, he ranked second on the team in tackles with 23 (18 solo). But an injured knee caused him to miss Green Bay’s recent game with Atlanta. A third-round pick in 2007, Rouse played in 11 games, starting three, a year ago.

Houston Texans

11 André Davis – Davis, now in his seventh NFL season, serves as the third receiver for the Texans after signing a long-term deal with them in the offseason. In their first four games, he caught four passes for 80 yards and returned 16 kickoffs for 332 yards, an average of 20.8 yards per return.

75 Brandon Frye – Frye went into this season hoping to get some playing time, but the Texans waived him right before the season began. They signed him to their practice squad on Sept. 4th, however. The former Tech offensive tackle spent all of last season on the practice squad.

76 Duane Brown – Brown went in the first round to the Texans in this past April’s NFL Draft and started the Texans’ first four games. He continues to fair pretty well – he’s only committed one penalty thus far.

52 Xavier Adibi – The Texans drafted former Tech linebacker Xavier Adibi back in April and he plays as a reserve at linebacker. The Texans did not activate him in the first two games, but activated him for the third game and he played on special teams.

Jacksonville Jaguars

20 Pierson Prioleau – Prioleau signed with the Jaguars in the offseason to be a back-up at both safety spots and to play on special teams after spending three seasons with the Redskins mainly in a similar role. He has played in every game thus far for the Jaguars and has 12 tackles (11 solo on the season).

75 Jonathan Lewis – The former Tech defensive tackle landed with the Jaguars in mid-August and expected to add depth to their line. But Lewis suffered a knee injury in the preseason finale against Washington and was placed on injured reserve. He will miss the 2008 season.

Kansas City Chiefs

24 Brandon Flowers – Flowers has picked up where he left off when he decided to leave Tech following his redshirt junior season. Flowers starts for the Chiefs, who took him in the second round of April’s draft, and had 23 tackles through the first five games – including 22 solo stops, which led the team.

Miami Dolphins

19 Ernest Wilford – Wilford signed a big deal with the Dolphins in the offseason, but has gotten off to a slow start. He had caught just one pass for 15 yards in the first four games and was not activated for the team’s first game. Tech’s all-time leading receiver enjoyed a career year for the Jaguars last season, catching a career-high and a team-leading 45 passes for 518 yards and three touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints

61 Matt Lehr – Lehr’s contract was terminated in early September, but the Saints re-signed him shortly thereafter. The nine-year veteran has played in just one game so far this season, his ninth season in the NFL.

New York Jets

17 David Clowney – Clowney, now in his second season, has not been activated for any of the Jets’ games this season. The former Tech receiver landed with the Jets last fall after being drafted by Green Bay, and he spent the remainder of the season on the Jets’ practice squad.

Oakland Raiders

64 Jake Grove – The former Tech center goes into his fifth season with Oakland and starts for the Raiders at center, beating out John Wade for the starting job. He played in just seven games last season, missing the majority of the season because of a knee injury.

23 DeAngelo Hall – Hall, who starts at cornerback for Oakland, struggled when matched up with former Tech receiver Eddie Royal during the teams’ meeting earlier this season, but he has recorded 22 tackles (20 solo) on the year to go with half of a sack and two interceptions. Hall went to Oakland from Atlanta in an offseason trade and started the first four games this season.

Seattle Seahawks

55 Darryl Tapp – After starting all of last season, the former Tech defensive end has played in a reserve role for the Seahawks so far this season. In Seattle’s first four games, he had nine tackles (seven solo). He recorded 49 tackles, including 41 solo stops, and seven sacks a year ago. He also intercepted a pass.

San Francisco 49ers

84 Josh Morgan – Morgan, a sixth-round pick of the 49ers in April’s NFL Draft, enjoyed a fantastic training camp for the 49ers and continues to see playing time. He caught five passes for 49 yards in the team’s first four games, and he also plays on special teams. He has four tackles on special teams, including three solo ones.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

69 Anthony Davis – The former Tech tackle, playing his sixth season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after landing with them as a free agent coming out of college, has played in a reserve role in every game but one this season. He played in nine games last year as a reserve.

Tennessee Titans

22 Vincent Fuller – The former Tech defensive back continues to flourish in Tennessee for the undefeated Titans. After the first five games, he ranked fourth on the team with 26 tackles, including 18 solo stops, and he has recovered a fumble. He served as the Titans’ nickel back a year ago and he returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Jason Murphy – Murphy, a former Tech guard, ended up being cut by the Titans in late August. But the Titans signed him to their practice squad a couple of days later and he’ll probably spend the season there.

Washington Redskins

23 Justin Hamilton – Hamilton, who did not play in the NFL last year after spending his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns, signed with Washington in the offseason and played in two of the Redskins’ first five games. He was not activated for the other three games. He sees most of his action on special teams.