Commmunity service Inspires Rams' Draft

December 02, 2007

Bill Coats
St Louis Post Dispatch

With linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa done for the season with a knee injury, his replacement, Chris Draft, is a lifesaver of sorts for the Rams. Five years ago, Draft was a lifesaver, period.

Early on a Sunday morning, Draft was driving on Interstate 85 north of Atlanta — at the time, he was with the Falcons, the Rams' foe Sunday — when he saw a car in front of him hit a guardrail, then swerve across five lanes and slam into a concrete wall.

The gas tank ignited and the car burst into flames. "I was thinking, 'I'm going to get him out or we're going to blow up together,'" Draft said later. "I was too close not to do anything."

 With the assistance of two other motorists, Draft pulled the driver from the wreckage to safety. His actions earned him the Falcons' Ed Block Courage Award for 2002.

Draft is still at it, although not quite so dramatically. A free-agent acquisition in the offseason, he wasn't in town long before he dived into community service activities. He's involved in so many that Draft has little time for anything else when he's not on the football field.

"Nothing else is as rewarding to me as doing that," he said. "Regardless of what happens on the ballfield, to change somebody's life, that's so much bigger than any win or loss."

 Draft, 31, is in his 10th NFL season, starting in Chicago and then adding stops in San Francisco, Atlanta and Carolina. He didn't expect to be released by the Panthers, not after leading them in tackles last year. "It seemed pretty obvious that I was going to stay there," he said. "But when you think something's obvious, something else always happens."

He was courted by several teams, a couple for whom he probably would have started. When the Rams dangled a three-year contract worth $4.3 million, Draft's decision was made. "It was the money; I'm going to be honest," he said. "But they did want me for a reason."

Draft has been the backup at all three linebacker spots. He started twice earlier in the season when Tinoisamoa was sidelined with an ankle injury. Now, Draft will be the full-time starter on the weakside.

"Of course, I always have to prepare like I'm going to be starting, just in case I end up playing the whole game," he said. "But this week, I don't have to worry about. I just have to make sure I'm prepared to go out and play the whole game."

Tinoisamoa was having a solid season, but the Rams shouldn't suffer much with the 5-foot-11, 236-pound Draft in his spot.

"He's tough, he's good on the run, he knows the game, he's really instinctive, he's good in coverage," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "The thing he doesn't have that Pisa has is the great top-end speed. But the guy's smart enough to make up for it, because he knows his limitations."

 A multi-sport star at Valencia High in Anaheim, Calif., Draft garnered a number of college offers. He chose Stanford partly for the academics, partly because Bill Walsh was the football coach, and partly because they offered him a chance to play baseball, too.

After a year and a half, he concluded that the demands were too great. "At Stanford, you have all the school work. And then football and baseball ... ooh," he recalled. "It just didn't mix well for me."

Football and community work, however, are just the right blend. "As a football player, I have a platform to really be able to create change," Draft explained. "I love to make a difference. There's nothing like seeing somebody smile and knowing you put that smile on their face." | 314-340-8189