Mark Story: Henry Clay grad Minnifield 'playing mad' after NFL Draft snub

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 31, 2012 

For Chase Minnifield and family, the 2012 NFL Draft was supposed to feel like Christmas.

It wound up being about as festive for the former Henry Clay High School star as National Income Tax Preparer's Day.

When the 2011 college football regular season ended, Chase Minnifield was widely projected to go within the top three rounds in the 2012 draft. Veteran NFL Draft guru Jerry Jones (not the Cowboys owner) even had a late first-round grade on the star University of Virginia cornerback.

Not only had the 6-foot, 185 pounder been a two-time All-ACC first-team pick, his NFL bloodlines were impeccable — Frank Minnifield, Chase's dad, is a former Pro Bowl corner for the Cleveland Browns from the Dawg Pound days.

Yet when the 2012 draft came, three days and seven rounds passed but the name "Chase Minnifield" was never called.

"Chase was disappointed," Frank Minnifield said last week. "I was disappointed. It was tough to take."

What happened to the draft standing of the younger Minnifield was a case of bad timing coupled with an NFL phobia over a particular form of medical procedure.

Before Virginia's meeting with Auburn in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl, Chase Minnifield started feeling pain in a knee.

The diagnosis was cartilage damage. In early January, the famed Birmingham orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, performed microfracture surgery on Minnifield to repair the knee damage.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, microfracture surgery involves the use of a surgical tool to make very small holes in the bone near the damaged cartilage to release the cells in the bone and build new cartilage.

Frank Minnifield says the specter of using a draft pick on a player coming off microfracture knee surgery petrified NFL teams.

"What's so disappointing, is that Chase's injury wasn't that severe," Frank Minnifield says. "Dr. Andrews thought microfracture (surgery) was the best way to treat it, but it didn't have to be that (form of surgery). None of us, including Dr. Andrews, realized how the NFL viewed players coming off microfracture (surgery)."

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Frank Minnifield says Andrews — known as perhaps the top sports surgeon in the country — sent two different letters to every NFL team explaining that Chase Minnifield should be physically sound in time for the 2012 season.

Yet "we found out, probably, three, four days before the draft that every team in the NFL had taken Chase off their draft boards," Frank Minnifield said.

Still, the Minnifield family watched the draft.

"I was hoping that one team, maybe one of my contacts in the league, would break ranks and draft Chase," Frank Minnifield said. "Obviously, that didn't happen."

So Chase, a guy who had once expected he would hear his name called no later than the third round, signed a free-agent deal with Washington. Bruce Allen, the Redskins general manager, was with the Chicago Blitz of the old United States Football League when that team signed Frank Minnifield out of the University of Louisville in 1983.

When 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and the other Redskins' draft picks reported for a weekend rookie camp in early May, Chase was there among the undrafted free agents.

Apparently, he was also there with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder.

"I put together a good résumé, and I feel like a lot of people got drafted over me that shouldn't have," Chase told reporters in Washington, D.C. "... You have to play the cards you are dealt, and I've been playing mad."

His son should be 100 percent physically, Frank Minnifield says, by the time Washington's training camp begins in late summer.

It's interesting how things work out. Frank Minnifield, now a successful Lexington businessman and chairman of the board of trustees at U of L, had to scrap his way to a stellar football career pretty much from the bottom.

He walked on at Louisville and became a college standout; then he began his pro career in the USFL before becoming an NFL star.

Frank says his son can do the same thing.

"If you've read any of the coverage (of the Redskins), you'll see that a lot of people have written that Washington may have gotten a steal in Chase," says Frank Minnifield. "The thing I've told him, he can still do everything he planned to do. It's not how you start in the league, it's how you finish."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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