Rams Pick Is Again Controversial
Apr. 20, 1998
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ The St. Louis Rams, the team that released Lawrence Phillips and took Randy Moss off their draft board, used their fourth-round pick Sunday on a wide receiver arrested last year in an alleged gang rape.
Coach Dick Vermeil said he'd be steering away from character risks in the draft. He insisted the pick of Az Hakim of San Diego State with the 98th overall pick doesn't indicate a change of philosophy.
``We had enough information on him,'' Vermeil said. ``We knew he would carry this rap. We knew there was nothing to it.''
Hakim was not charged in the alleged incident.
Vermeil said Hakim was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though the alleged rape took place March 3, 1997, during a party at his own home. Hakim said some acquaintances took a sexual encounter ``to another level,'' but that he was uninvolved and unaware of what was going on.
Hakim and three others, including two other San Diego State players, were arrested that August in the incident, which involved an 18-year-old woman. After spending two nights in jail, the players were released when the district attorney decided not to press charges.
``A roommate had some friends down from L.A., and I guess they threw the girl or whatnot, they cut her hair or something,'' Hakim said in a conference call with reporters. ``But she decided to press charges on everybody in the household.''
Later during the call, he said the two friends from L.A. had sex with the woman ``and they took it another level, I guess. They said they didn't rape her or anything like that.''
Hakim said he took a polygraph test to try to clear his name.
``It was just that I was there at the time, and it was my house, and I was the star wide receiver at San Diego State,'' he said. ``It was like I was there, but I wasn't there.''
Later in the day, Vermeil lost his cool during an ESPN interview with reporter Mike Tirico. After Tirico asked the coach why he'd draft a player with a question mark in his past after passing on Moss, Vermeil angrily responded: ``It sounds like you've already convicted him. You ask Ron Jaworski, he'll tell you I wouldn't hire a rapist.''
Jaworski, a commentator for ESPN, was the quarterback on Vermeil's 1980 Super Bowl team in Philadelphia.
During that interview, Vermeil also said he wished Phillips, released last November after a series of legal problems, was still with the Rams. And he said Moss was off the Rams' board because he was a first-round pick and he couldn't justify such a risk.
Regarding Hakim, Vermeil said the Rams checked with NFL security two days before the draft to clear him as a character risk. He also leaned on background from new Rams offensive line coach Ed White, who was offensive line coach at San Diego State while Hakim played there.
``From what I've heard, he was not involved,'' White said.
San Diego State coach Ted Tollner endorsed Hakim, who started for him as a 16-year-old freshman. Tollner said there were no incidents of any kind until the rape accusation.
``I would take him in a minute,'' Tollner said. ``He's a good person and a good football player.
``He did what we want our guys to do: go to class, progress toward a degree, practice hard every day, and keep your nose clean when you're on your own time.''
Hakim caught 37 passes for a 16.1-yard average and six touchdowns last year before his season was ended after eight games by a hamstring injury, and has 4.4 speed in the 40. He was projected as an early to mid-second round pick but may have been downgraded because of his off-field problem.
The Rams chose Syracuse tight end Roland Williams, mostly a blocker in college with only 28 career receptions, with their other fourth-round pick.
``I'm just fired up, fired up,'' Williams said.
Then the Rams took another player with a bit of a troubled past in the fifth. Raymond Priester, a 228-pound tailback-fullback who holds the Clemson career rushing mark with 3,904 yards, was arrested in 1996 for charging long-distance phone calls to someone else.
St. Louis finally addressed one of its top pre-draft needs in the sixth round by drafting one of Priester's college teammates, 6-2, 308-pound offensive guard Glenn Rountree.
The Rams took Jason Chorak, a defensive end from Washington who was the Pac-10 defensive player of the year as a junior, in the seventh round.