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10:33PM

Raiders’ first pick is a first-class guy

ALAMEDA, Calif. — In person, Darrius Heyward-Bey didn’t look bad and sounded good. The most disparaged, berated, criticized individual in pro football who never had played a game was wonderfully slick and carefully glib.

Heyward-Bey spent a few hours showing his moves on a morning of sunshine and curiosity, and then followed that up with a few minutes showing his intelligence.

Not a tart word or an angry thought about those who deem his selection in the first round by the Oakland Raiders nothing short of blasphemy.

For the past two weeks, since the draft, observers who weren’t wringing their hands — “How could the Raiders take this guy when they had a chance at Michael Crabtree?’’ — wanted to wring someone’s (yes, Al Davis’) neck. It was if football had been profaned.

“Everybody wants to get you when you’re down,’’ said Raiders coach Tom Cable when asked to explain what some saw as a greater national scandal than the economy. “People get upset when you do something they think you shouldn’t do.’’

What the Raiders did, of course, was with the No. 7 pick in the draft take Heyward-Bey, who was a junior at Maryland, who caught passes for only 600 yards and who has brilliant speed, but that apparently didn’t enter into the equation — except, as always, for Al Davis.

Saturday was the first day of the rest of Heyward-Bey’s life, minicamp for a franchise that, after six consecutive losing seasons, needs a maximum of help. He was out there with the big guys, JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, Nnamdi Asomugha, the all-pro, at cornerback.

Then while a continuous loop of videotape ran on a television screen above him, the Raiders’ ingenious method of proving Heyward-Bey can catch the ball as well as run with it, Heyward-Bey faced the media and the music. He departed leaving an impression.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Maybe, as the analysts predict, Heyward-Bey will be a bust. Then again, listening to the young man (he’s 22) after watching him, one is struck with a surprising thought: He might be the next Bay Area superstar.

It isn’t only talent that elevates an athlete into that rare position, although you don’t qualify without having a great deal of that. You also need personality, an ability to handle an interview as smoothly as a deep pattern. You need a smidgen of arrogance and a great deal of confidence. You need a sense of humor. And to make it all work, you need a topping of self-deprecation.

If the sit-down after his first practice is an indication, Heyward-Bey has all of the above, at least off the field. And he believes he has what is required on the field, too. Naturally.

“It wasn’t strange to me,’’ said Heyward-Bey, when someone wondered about the controversy created by his draft selection. “Things like that happen all the time. But I was happy to be a Raider. I know Al Davis and the rest of the coaching staff made a great choice.

“All I can do is worry about me. My attitude was going to be the same whether I was the first pick in the draft or the last pick in the draft or a free agent. I was going to work hard, regardless.’’

Cable hasn’t commiserated with Heyward-Bey, who didn’t arrive in town until Friday. The player said he doesn’t need happy talk. “He called me,’’ Heyward-Bey said of the coach, “and said he had my back. I felt good enough with that . . . you can run through mountains when a coach tells you that.’’

Mountains he doesn’t need to conquer. Rather it’s the doubts of the non-believers. The Sporting News Today gave the Raiders a grade of D, adding, “Bad teams can’t make mistakes such as WR Darrius Heyward-Bey and S Michael Mitchell.’’ Another scouting service awarded the Raiders an F.

“My mom doesn’t understand,’’ said Heyward-Bey. “It doesn’t bother me at all. You brush it off and keep working. That’s what we’re born to do.’’

When it was pointed out he and Crabtree, picked by the 49ers, might be linked competitively as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are, Heyward-Bey quickly answered, “I don’t think we’re like Kobe and LeBron yet. I’ve just got to worry about getting into the playbook and making the team.’’

What he made was a leaping catch and a couple of adjustments on routes, as both JaMarcus and Jeff Garcia threw to him and other receivers.

“Every time you’re in there,’’ said Heyward-Bey, “you want to think you’re a starter and hold on to the spot as long as you can, and don’t want to be starstruck with all those big-name guys, You want to feel part of the group, and they made me feel right at home.’’

And his reaction after his first workout as a Raider? “I didn’t pass out, so that was good.’’

This kid is a comer.
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